CEOL - UN chief in Kosovo tells Serbs they have to wait for reconciliation

PARTES, Serbia, Dec 12, 1999 -- (AFP) Kosovo's Serbian minority will have to wait for the raw wounds of the province's recent past to heal and the security situation to improve before enjoying reconciliation and full democracy, the head of the UN mission said here Saturday.

In a tough discourse with representatives of Serbian villages near the southeastern town of Gnjilane, Frenchman Bernard Kouchner said that security and peaceful coexistence had to precede multi-ethnicity and post-war reconciliation.

"You are (the product) of 1,500 years of history," Kouchner said in response to an Orthodox church leader who stressed how long Serbs had inhabited Kosovo.

"But you are also the product of recent history and there is a tremendous hatred" in Kosovo, said Kouchner, referring to 10 years of anti-Albanian discrimination by Belgrade and the brutal war with Serbian forces that devastated the province.

Some 200 Serbs had been expected to turn out to meet Kouchner in Partes, where a Serbian flag hung from the Orthodox church, but only 20 community representatives turned up in the face of a local boycott of the visit.

One local leader from the village of Gorni Kusce, where several of the 2,000 Serbian residents have been murdered in revenge killings, asked Kouchner if he was able to sleep at night knowing that "ethnic cleansing" was being carried out.

Kouchner said he was dedicated to protecting everyone, regardless of ethnicity, but said that he slept badly knowing of the continued murders, kidnapping and arson attacks in the province he has administered since July.

He denied that ethnic cleansing was occurring though.

He promised to unveil an action plan on Monday to mark six months of international administration and which is designed to increase security in the province.

He said one of the key problems of a stalled legal system would be tackled and that he would announce the appointment of 150 new judges and prosecutors, including international judges.

Another measure will be to bring education and health facilities closer to threatened communities to reduce the risk of travelling. He called on the Serbs to be patient and wait for the freedom to travel when the security situation has improved.

The action plan is also expected to include putting up to 600 ethnic Albanian former police officers on the streets as well as increasing foot patrols by international peacekeeping troops of the Kosovo Force.

The French administrator later visited Gnjilane, 35 kilometres (20 miles) south of the provincial capital Pristina, where he met local leaders from ethnic Albanian, Serbian, Turkish and Roma communities and addressed a gathering of local residents.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]