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Chaos and Intolerance Now Reign in Kosovo
THE NEW YORK TIMES
November 22, 1999
Chaos and Intolerance Now Reign in Kosovo Despite U.N.'s Efforts
By STEVEN ERLANGER
PRISTINA, Kosovo -- Five months after NATO forces moved in to take absolute control of Kosovo, there is little electricity 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 United Nations 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 so far to provide daily 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 Clinton, who will arrive in Kosovo for a few hours on Tuesday to thank American troops and wish them a happy Thanksgiving at their huge and heavily secured base, Camp Bondsteel, will see little of today's Kosovo.
The reality of revenge and intolerance is eroding the United Nations' goal of multiethnicity, and the only multiethnic organization actually functioning in any way is the nascent police force, where a few of the 170 or so cadets graduated thus far are Serbs or members other minorities. It would be wonderful enough, officials say, if the people here would simply stop killing one other 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 United Nations' 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, Bosniaks 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 O.S.C.E." 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 among the staff of the United Nations 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."
Linda Gusia, a young Albanian who works as a translator, said: "You sit in your apartment with little electricity or water and look out the window at the traffic, and it's a chaos. The United Nations has not spent all the glory of NATO's victory yet -- people still view them as saviors. But if they don't produce soon, they will spend all the glory. People want civic structures here and a normal life. People don't understand simple things, like why the police don't get out and direct traffic when there's no electricity."
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; Kouchner wants 6,000. The registration of citizens, which must happen before 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 simple lack of financial support from the same Western alliance that won the war.
"Governments are always tired of giving money," Kouchner said, especially for unglamorous ends 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, Kouchner says, 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 as promised, but every other month -- far from enough to feed a family.
There have been long and bitter discussions between Pristina and European and American 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 United Nations mission in Kosovo.
"That's the price of half a day's bombing," a senior United Nations 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 donor's conference of Western governments on Kosovo on Nov. 17 produced a pledge of $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for next year -- but only $88 million to cover the budget for the United Nations mission, just 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, 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.
Since not every Serb can be protected, Albanian efforts to drive them out of cities like Pristina, Pec and Prizren have largely succeeded, with perhaps 600 Serbs left in Pristina and fewer in the other two towns. In Podujevo, officials say, two or three elderly Serbs remain, their apartments guarded around the clock.
Senior officers with the NATO force acknowledge problems, but one said bluntly, "Our major problem is to wait for the civilian side to catch up."
The officer said the force, known as KFOR, "can't build a judicial system, and it can't issue identity documents," adding: "We can detain people and bring them to a local magistrate and get them held for six months, but they have to have a trial, and they don't exist. There has to be a process through a system."
The officer decried apparent Western governmental delay and fatigue, saying, "Kosovo has not become the quiet and happy place the world community expected."
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 United Nations officials here say 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.
United Nations officials and moderate Albanians note that the Serbian atrocities of the last decade in Kosovo were a function of a modern state and represented 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 Gen. Agim Ceku, who have both spoken publicly, when asked to, in favor of tolerance.
But there is also little resistance to abuses against Serbs, a senior United Nations official said. Among the Albanians, he said, "the voices of moderation and tolerance are few and not representative, and they themselves are under threat." He added, "Just watch the kids spitting on Serbs or stoning them, and no one says a word."
Some Albanian newspapers, especially Bota Sot, are full of hate speech directed at Serbs, Gypsies and even moderate Albanians, with even some incitement to violence.
This month, in the American zone near Gnjilane, workers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discovered a leaflet issued by the Kosovo Protection Corps, the new organization formed from the supposedly disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army and intended to be purely civilian, calling on all Albanians not to buy any Serbian property. Concerned United Nations officials provided a translation.
"With criminals," the appeal says, "we must exchange other things, not buy our properties from them." Those who do buy Serb property, the leaflet says, are "completely irresponsible and anti-nation Albanian speakers who are not freedom-loving people."
It warns: "Whoever does not respect our request will be put before responsible authorities," adding that "it is known which are the responsible authorities" -- clearly not KFOR or the United Nations.
Senior United Nations and military officials also say that two detention camps were discovered on the grounds of the Kosovo Protection Corps, which is supposed to have no police functions, and that the camps contained both Albanians and Serbs suspected of war crimes, some of whom bore evidence of beatings.
And they note the killings of at least two local leaders of the party of Ibrahim Rugova, a political rival to Thaci -- as a sign of increased political intimidation among Albanians, about which foreigners here know very little.
The remaining Serbs, caught between Milosevic and angry Albanians, feel especially threatened.
Father Sava, an aide to Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church, has had to move from the Decani monastery near Pec, in western Kosovo, to Gracanica, near Pristina, where there are more Serbs and better NATO protection.
He says individual KFOR companies and soldiers have been excellent on a local level, but failed to prevent retaliation against the Serbs, Gypsies and other minorities. "They simply want to avoid military confrontation with the Kosovo Liberation Army, and don't want them becoming a terrorist organization that shoots them as they did Milosevic's soldiers and police," he said.
More than 70 Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and holy places have been damaged or destroyed since NATO forces arrived in June, he said, including a dozen from the 14th and 15th centuries. The Church of the Virgin Mary near Suva Reka, dating from 1315, has been leveled.
Father Sava acknowledges that the Serbs damaged or destroyed many mosques during the war, and has forcefully repeated his and the church's regrets for Serbian crimes against Albanians in Kosovo.
On Nov. 8, he told the United Nations radio here that he again wished "to express my greatest regret for everything that was done by the members of the Serbian people and special forces against Albanian civilians, which is a very serious crime, but I also sincerely expect that reasonable and honest Albanians would also raise their voice against the violence we now witness in many cities of Kosovo, which are almost cleansed of their non-Albanian population."
Father Sava also noted: "Now we can see that many Albanians would like to stop the violence against Serbs, but they cannot, they are intimidated, they are scared, as many Serbs felt before."
He, like Haxhiu and most Albanians, says the main problem of Kosovo is criminal impunity. "If you behave like a criminal you should be brought to court," Father Sava said. "But courts are not working, there's no legal system, and this is a paradise for crime."
In an interview, Kouchner, an emotional man, spoke sadly about the intolerance of a society traumatized by war and brutality.
He said he had approval from Secretary General Kofi Annan to try to share government duties with local leaders, with himself retaining ultimate power. But even local elections seem far off -- maybe fall or winter of next year.
It is difficult to get either the leaders or the people in both the Albanian and Serbian populations to cooperate, Kouchner acknowledged. "People from both communities are mostly unable to think about the suffering of others, only about their own suffering." It is more understandable from the Albanians, he said, who do not always refuse cooperation, but are suspicious.
"It is hard to come to help and find that you are perceived sometimes as an enemy, and not just by the Serbs but also by the Albanians who we came to defend," he said. "Every failure, every assassination, every murder here is a victory for Milosevic."
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