The Times 1999-11-24
General fears for Kosovo's future


THE people of Kosovo face an uncertain future because of the absence of any political settlement for the province, Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson, the former commander of the Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, said yesterday.

General Jackson, who won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership in Kosovo, said he feared that the development of "a truly multi-ethnic society" in the Yugoslav province was a long way off. The Dayton accord, ending the conflict in Bosnia, included a political settlement. "But there is no such settlement for Kosovo," he said, speaking at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies in London.

"Is Kosovo to remain a part of Yugoslavia or will it be independent?" he asked. Even though Western Governments have not supported independence for Kosovo, General Jackson suggested that if Montenegro became independent, Kosovo would "almost certainly" go the same way.

However, he said, at present there were still "old scores" being settled in Kosovo and ethnic hatred remained the key obstacle to a stable society. Although Kfor, the Kosovo peacekeeping force he commanded until early October, had succeeded in reducing crime in the province, murders were still being carried out, and most of those killed were Serbs. General Jackson said that while he was in command, Kfor soldiers had had to live in Serb flats in isolated places to protect families, and "old ladies had to be escorted by soldiers to buy their bread".

"We're talking about people's attitudes and perceptions . . . there's a long way to go," he said. He even wondered whether it would be possible for Serb "personnel" ever to return to Kosovo to monitor the border and guard the religious sites - one of the agreements of the peace deal signed with the Serbs.

Hundreds, not thousands, of Serb troops were supposed to be allowed back into Kosovo to perform specific tasks. However, General Jackson indicated that it was hard to envisage this happening in the near future.

He also gave a warning that the command of the Kfor operation in Kosovo was now more complex because there were troops from 29 countries involved in the peacekeeping, instead of the original five.

One crucial lesson of the Kosovo mission, he said, was the importance of a "framework nation" being in charge of the overall peacekeeping force. Without a lead nation commanding the headquarters, which in the first four months of the Kfor mission was in his hands as the British commander, there would have been no cohesion.

General Jackson, introduced before his lecture at the institute as a national hero, paid tribute to the way the Serb military had managed to withdraw all their troops and armour from a territory the size of Wales in "a few hours short of 11 days". He reminded the audience that on June 12, the day Kfor entered Kosovo, it was "about a tenth of the size of the withdrawing force".

General Jackson, who commands the Nato Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, in Germany, dismissed the unexpected arrival of Russian troops at Pristina airport just before Kfor entered Kosovo as a "sideplay".

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