IHT - Chaos and Revenge Erode Kosovo Peace

Paris, Tuesday, November 23, 1999

By Steven Erlanger - New York Times Service

PRISTINA, Kosovo - Five months after NATO forces moved in to take absolute control of Kosovo, there is little power and an inconstant water supply, the streets are full of garbage, traffic is in chaos without working stoplights or police direction, few cars have license plates, and no one has new identity papers.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanians driven out by the Serbs have returned from refugee camps, and the Serbian and Gypsy minorities continue to be harassed and attacked. The UN government here, starved of funds by the countries that fought and won the war, is unable to pay salaries even to the public employees it is supposed to control.

Justice is rare and court trials nearly nonexistent, so few are punished; robberies, apartment thefts, extortion and even murders take place with near impunity, some of it a function of organized crime.

There are only 1,700 international police officers to provide security, and the patrols of the NATO-led peacekeeping force are generally static and unaggressive.

The burning of Serbs' homes takes place almost daily in an organized fashion, increasing the pressure on the Serbian minority to flee the province or ghettoize itself in enclaves, surrounded by hostile Albanians who remember their own years of repression.

President Bill Clinton, who will visit Kosovo for a few hours on Tuesday to thank U.S. troops and wish them a happy Thanksgiving at their huge and heavily secured base, Camp Bondsteel, will see little of Kosovo.

The reality of revenge and intolerance is eroding the UN goal of a multiethnic society, and the only multiethnic organization now functioning is the nascent police force, where a few of the 170 or so cadets graduated thus far are Serbs or members of other minorities. It would be wonderful enough, officials say, if the people here would simply stop killing one another, or turning away as others kill, and manage at least to live side by side. But no one expects that happy prospect any time soon.

The UN special representative on human rights in the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, a former Czech dissident and foreign minister, reported this month that ''the spring ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians accompanied by murders, torture, looting and burning of houses has been replaced by the fall ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Romas, Bosnians and other non-Albanians accompanied by the same atrocities.''

''Our problem,'' he continued, ''is that now this is happening in the presence of Unmik, KFOR and the OSCE.'' The organizations behind those missions here - the United Nations, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe - represent nations that for years criticized President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia for his harsh repression of Kosovo's Albanians.

There are vivid signs of rebuilding, of the reconstruction of houses and the rapid development of small businesses, especially in the major towns, where foreign workers now based in Kosovo are flush with cash. Those foreign aid workers are giving vital food and help in countless ways - providing emergency shelter and 900,000 meals a day, for instance, in a province believed to contain about 1.4 million people now.

But despite the presence of as many as 55,000 foreigners - 42,000 of them peacekeeping troops - the energy one sees comes from the Albanians themselves, with access to money of their own or of relatives abroad, and not from international efforts.

Criticism of the situation here comes from Albanians, Serbs and many international agencies, and the mood at the UN mission in Kosovo, the transitional government run by Bernard Kouchner, is beleaguered and somber.

Baton Haxhiu, the editor in chief of the Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore, said bluntly: ''I'm depressed that after 10 years of sanctions, Serbia is building bridges, and apartments have electricity and water, and we have 42,000 Western soldiers and police and 335 aid agencies, and we don't have the basics of a state - no justice, no security, no electricity, no water and no identity documents. It's alarming.''

Mr. Kouchner and his aides say that work is going ahead to fix the dilapidated and badly maintained generators in Kosovo, which they took over from the peacekeeping force a month ago, and to secure more power from abroad. They promise that power and water supplies will be close to regular by mid-December, if not before. A second mobile telephone system will be set up.

They are waiting for governments to provide more police officers, as promised; Mr. Kouchner wants 6,000. The registration of citizens, which must happen before Mr. Kouchner can even contemplate any kind of elections, is planned but not yet financed. The registration of cars will start soon. They are trying to get more Albanian and Serbian judges to work, and will bring in some international jurists to help.

Their main problem, they say, is less their own inefficiency - which they admit is real but insist is diminishing - than the lack of financial support from the same Western alliance that won the war.

''Governments are always tired of giving money,'' Mr. Kouchner said, especially for unglamorous needs like paying salaries. ''But this is the first time that we are in charge of a country, and we have to rebuild the whole administration from nothing, and we need a minimum budget to pay for public services and salaries.''

It is ridiculous, Mr. Kouchner said, that he is able to pay doctors, lawyers and teachers a stipend in lieu of salary of only about $170, and that not even every month, but every other month - far from enough to feed a family.

There have been long and bitter discussions between Pristina and European and U.S. officials about how to get the $25 million needed to cover this year's shortfall, and the estimated $150 million gap in next year's budget for the UN mission in Kosovo.

''That's the price of half a day's bombing,'' a senior UN official said with real rancor in his voice. ''The West has got to invest in the peace or this place will fail. And no one wants it to fail more than Slobodan Milosevic.''

A donors' conference of Western governments on Kosovo last Wednesday produced a pledge of $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for next year - but only $88 million to cover the budget for the UN mission, just about half of what is needed. And officials said any funds would arrive too late to make a real impact this year, when moods, and public services, are at a nadir.

Besides money, Mr. Kouchner said, his biggest concern is security for the minority population, especially the Serbs, who are believed now to number 60,000 to 70,000 in Kosovo, senior officials say, down from perhaps 200,000 to 250,000 two years ago.

In an echo of feuds between foreign military and civilian officials overseeing Bosnia, senior KFOR officers blame the United Nations for being slow to punish crimes, while UN officials here say that the NATO force could also patrol more aggressively, especially in the Italian and German sectors in western Kosovo. ''KFOR, with all its intelligence resources, must have better information on those responsible for ethnic violence,'' an official said, but the force will not share it with civilian authorities.

UN officials and moderate Albanians note that the Serbian atrocities of the last decade in Kosovo were a function of a modern state, a form of state terrorism. The Albanian atrocities, they say, show signs of at least local organization from those who want all minorities out of Kosovo. But there is little evidence of any order to that effect from former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders like Hashim Thaci or General Agim Ceku, who have both spoken publicly, when asked to, in favor of tolerance.


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