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Keeping Order in Kosovo

March 6, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Before last year’s Kosovo war, ethnic Serbs and Albanians worked and lived side by side in Mitrovica, a mining town in northern Kosovo. But today it’s the site of recurring ethnic tensions, a bitterly divided city that residents call the last battlefield of the war.

A year ago this month, after months of warnings to the Serbs to stop their repression of the majority ethnic Albanians, NATO allies began their 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Tens of thousands of Albanians were forced from their homes and villages by Serb security forces.

By June, Slobodan Milosevic’s army had left Kosovo, and ethnic Albanians began returning to their homes. Most of the Serbs fled to Serbia proper, though thousands remained in the North and in Mitrovica.

The Albanians demanded an independent Kosovo, but the allies in effect made the Serb province a United Nations protectorate. Bernard Kouchner, a former French cabinet minister, was named U.N. Special Representative, supervising refugee and other humanitarian issues. The international peacekeeping force, made up of mostly NATO nations, is under the command of German General Klaus Reinhardt.

Mitrovica’s bloodshed, which drew international attention back to Kosovo, began February 2, when two elderly Serbs were killed by a grenade explosion on a U.N. bus.

Over the next two weeks, at least seven Albanians died from Serb counterattacks and clashes with French members of the NATO peacekeeping force known as KFOR.

In late February, as many as 50,000 Albanians marched into Mitrovica from 17 miles away.

SPOKESMAN: (speaking through interpreter) We will go as far as Belgrade, if we have to. They did not solve the situation in Mitrovica, so that is why we, the youth, are heading there.

RAY SUAREZ: The protesters ended up at the Ibar River, the city’s geographic and ethnic dividing line. Today, mostly Albanians live in the South, Serbs to the North. In an effort to contain the violence in Mitrovica, US General Wesley Clark, the supreme NATO commander, has asked for 2,000 more soldiers. France, Britain, and Belgium said they are willing to provide additional troops. But Secretary of State Albright said the US Is waiting for the Europeans to act first.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: The United States has the largest number of troops in the area, so we do believe — or in Kosovo as a whole — that we are definitely doing our part. But I don’t exclude the fact that there may have to be some Americans. But I think in the first instance, we are looking to others to plus-up their forces.

RAY SUAREZ: US officials also have asked the Europeans to push ahead more quickly in establishing an international police force. A force that would take on more of the load of maintaining order in the few places left in Kosovo where Serbs and Albanians live together.

RAY SUAREZ: Joining us are Bernard Kouchner, special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, and head of the U.N. administration in Kosovo; and KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt. Gentlemen, welcome to the program. I understand that you both briefed the Security Council on the situation in Kosovo. Mr. Kouchner, let’s begin with you. What did you have to tell the representatives about the situation in the province?

BERNARD KOUCHNER: Well, it was the first time that a civilian and a military involved person were together. I have to tell them that despite of some very important incidents, things were getting better. Security, building administration, opening of the schools, all the schools, 90% of the persons are going to school, of the children — universities, bank system, rebuilding, et cetera. But, of course, we needed and it was my main concern to be backed by the Security Council, to be supported politically and of course in terms of means.

So we addressed them a question about the elections. This year local election, it was the answer. About the missing persons, this is very important to rebuild or build tolerance in Kosovo, that we need absolutely news from missing person.

They agreed, the Security Council agrees about sort of special envoy on this issue — and about the backing I offer them to come to Kosovo, to the Security Council meeting in Kosovo, not all of them but some of them coming to us and discovering with us the reality. It has been agreed.

RAY SUAREZ: And, General Reinhardt, what could you tell the Security Council about the military situation?

GEN. KLAUS REINHARDT: I told them basically two things. The most important one I think is how closely we work together between the military and UNMEC… I had my experiences in Somalia in UNPROFOR, in IFOR and SFOR, the two halves of one element never worked so closely together as Bernard Kouchner and myself, and I think this is a very positive sign.

On the other hand, I told them about the major feature of my KFOR troops are responsible for the security, which has been improved considerably over the last nine months. We’re down to four to three murders per week for about two million inhabitants. That’s not so bad. We have reduced kidnapping almost entirely. We reduced crime as far as looting and arson is concerned, but we still have spikes like we just had in Mitrovica, which are highly concerned for me, which we have to fight against.

But basically the key problem we have to deal with is a mental attitude of two ethnic groups, the Albanians on one side and the Serbs on the other side, who are an antagonistic group full of animosity, of fear for revenge, of hatred, which cannot be taken away by soldiers being on the ground in that short period of time. After what both groups have done to each other, it takes a longer time. We have to look in longer time frames than just a couple of months. And, therefore, we’ll have to stay there for quite a while.

RAY SUAREZ: If there are still elements of both groups who are willing, who want to attack each other, are soldiers really able to do this job long term, or are you making progress on having a regular conventional police force drawn from the local population to either assist you or to take over many of these duties?

GEN. KLAUS REINHARDT: Well, there’s a mixture. I mean, the soldiers on the one hand are doing their job, and by their sheer presence, by running 750 patrols a day, about 500 checkpoints a day, by about 5,000 soldiers being just out to support the minorities, we do a great job. In addition to that, we have the ANMIC police officers. We still miss about 3,000. We have to substitute for them.

At the same time, Bernard Kouchner is building up a Kosovo police force. We have a Kosovo police academy. We have the second group, which just graduated. All of that together forms the security forces so we haven’t matched our goal yet, but I think we all try very hard to do the utmost possible in that country.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mr. Kouchner, if the General’s forces detain someone or an officer in the new police department arrests someone, do you have courts yet? Do you have the framework of a civil administration now?

BERNARD KOUCHNER: Framework of a civil administration, yes. Good judiciary system, unfortunately not. We named close to 400 judges, prosecutors, lay judges. But in Kosovo they are not confident with justice. First, nobody is complaining. Nobody is addressing the prosecutor or the lawyers or the judges. How does this kind of confidence for years and years? They were oppressed. They have no tradition on complaining and going to justice and to court.

Second, unfortunately, they all remain partial on both sides, either the Serbs or the Albanians. So we have to deal with an international justice backing the Kosovo system of the judiciary system. This is another offer to the international community: We need judges, international judges and prosecutors. Unfortunately for the moment we did our best but it is not functioning enough. But please, don’t forget that only eight months, only we were in charge since eight months. We are in charge just for the beginning of the peace process.

The peace process used to take years and years, and the time of building confidence, rebuilding an administration, changing the behavioral of the people is not a majestic time. It is not fitting with the impatience. People are in a hurry. They are in a hurry to consider our result. We are also in a hurry. But remember Beirut, remember Lebanon, remember Salvador, remember Vietnam, remember Ireland — it takes time. Give time a chance to build peace.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you think you were fully aware of the level of hostility between these groups? Are there elements of the framework that you had gone there to implement that perhaps looked about right last year but look too optimistic now?

BERNARD KOUCHNER: Well, I remain optimistic, but you are right. The international community came to protect the Albanians against ethnic cleansing. And we discovered that hidden by this minority other minorities like the Serbs, the Turkish, the Bosnians, the Arabs must be protected.

We have to protect them. This is our duty, and we were not prepared enough to this particular task, to this particular goal, to this particular duty. You are right. But now we are completely concerned by this mission. Of course it drives us to this very difficult task of rebuilding confidence. The Serbs must be backed in their, let’s say, the rest of the confidence. We don’t want to expel them.

On the contrary, we have to protect them, to ask them to come back. And on the other hand, on the other side, we need to light up the future for all the Albanians of Kosovo. And this is what we address to the Security Council. Another concern about starting political — because as we are going on the election, it will be a good time to ask the Albanians, all the minorities in Kosovo, with us to start discussing the status of protection of the minorities. What is a minority? What should be done on protection of minorities?

RAY SUAREZ: Do you have the proper tools in place from the United Nations to know what you are guiding this province to, what form of relationship with Belgrade, what kind of local administration — will you have local people in place running the day-to-day affairs of Kosovo soon?

BERNARD KOUCHNER: Yes. It was very useful for these purposes — running Kosovo with a joint administration, which started three to four months ago. First, in getting together the Albanian leaders. Then we are waiting for the Serbs. I hope they will come. When? I don’t know. They told us that they were coming. We are waiting for the Serbs.

But, second the relationship with Belgrade — we are having a high level of meetings with the Belgrade representative, Mr. Vukitovic, in Kosovo. We are meeting him or his people twice a week, several times. I phoned him on Friday about this issue of a working group on the, let’s say, our common purposes. I’m not dealing directly with Belgrade, but there is a special envoy and a group of people who we are dealing with.

RAY SUAREZ: General Reinhardt, do you have the tools that you need for the job, day-to-day? Are you able to have most of the province be a safe place to do business, to go to work, to go to school?

GEN. KLAUS REINHARDT: Well, I think basically I have what I need. I have about 31,000 NATO troops and about 7,700 non-NATO troops at my disposal. I can engage them where I see fit. We have to constantly readjust the forces and their disposition to the situation, as we see fit. It might be that on the long run, we have to change a little bit the composition of the forces but basically yes I’m happy with what I have today.

RAY SUAREZ: General Reinhardt, Bernard Kouchner, thank you both.