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Can Kosovo Recover?

August 4, 1999 at 6:00 PM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

TERENCE SMITH: Joining us is Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. He has just returned from Kosovo, where he served as the United Nations administrator overseeing the start of the post-war reconstruction. Mr. De Mello, welcome. Tell us how bad and how widespread these revenge attacks are on the Serbs and the gypsies.

SERGIO VIERA DE MELLO, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs: Well, they have become a very serious source of concern, both to General Mike Jackson, the commander of the KFOR of the military presence in Kosovo and to myself and my successor, Mr. Bernard Kushner, from the very early days. We arrived, as you know, on the 12th and 13th and soon thereafter these killings, evictions and force forced displacement of Serbs and gypsies and to a much lesser extent of some of the other minorities, the Turks and Bosnian Muslims began. This is indeed very disturbing. As you know, last time you invited me, I was just back from a visit to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and I spoke very harshly against the brutal treatment of the Kosovar Albanians by the police and paramilitary forces of the Serb and Yugoslav authorities. But it was, you know, a relief to see these hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees and displaced persons returning only a few days after I spoke to you in early June. But one injustice cannot be redressed by another, and I hope the Albanian people, and especially the Albanian political leaders in Kosovo, will not alienate this immense capital of sympathy and support that they gathered in recent months by treating the Serbs and other minorities the way they were treated.

TERENCE SMITH: What is it going to take, Mr. De Mello, to bring the situation under control?

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, obviously, a very strong military presence on the ground, which KFOR is deploying. We have just seen it on your screens. And I can assure you that General Mike and his commanders are doing a superb job in attempting to restore law and order in a country that has known none in the democratic sense in recent year . We will also need our own U.N. international police, which has begun deploying at a rate of 200 police officers per week. We will need, in particular, and as a priority, a Kosovo, a new Kosovo police force, which we are beginning to create.

Policing the province

TERENCE SMITH: Well, if 35,000 NATO troops can’t control the situation now, how will 3,000 police be able to do it?

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, you’re right. Soldiers and policemen cannot prevent what we keep seeing from happening, unless we put one international soldier or policeman next to each and every member of the different minorities in Kosovo. That is why I was saying that the Albanian political leadership has a particular responsibility. I know, I know that they are, in their majority, committed to a multiethnic and multicultural and multi-religious Kosovo. But rhetorical statements to that effect are not sufficient. They must come public, they must mobilize the Albanian people, who are understandably disgruntled after what has happened to them in recent years and especially in recent months, and persuade them not to take justice into their own hands. And for that, we must also demonstrate that justice can be done and it is being done, both by the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague and indeed by a new judicial system that the United Nations is putting in place.

TERENCE SMITH: With estimates that perhaps only 50,000 or fewer Serbs remain in Kosovo from a post-war number of about 200,000, you wonder whether or not with a multiethnic Kosovo that you speak of is realistic.

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, you know, that  will be for the Albanian people of Kosovo in particular to decide and for their leaders. I am personally satisfied that the majority of the Albanians in Kosovo do not wish the Serb minority and other minorities to leave that province, certainly those who have clear consciences and who did not indulge in the kind of barbarian behavior that we witnessed between March and June in particular. But you see, the Serbs must also understand that we’re going through a very difficult, a very fragile transition between what happened, and that I believe most of them condemn and a new democratic Kosovo that is in the making. We’re in the very early stages, and we have been appealing, as you know, both General Jackson, myself and now my successor, Mr. Kushner, to the Serbs in particular, not to leave, to remain and give the United Nations mandate to establish a truly democratic tolerant and multiethnic society in Kosovo a chance. And for those who left, I do believe that we will, in a matter of months, manage to demonstrate that it will be safe for the to return gradually to certain areas of Kosovo. I’m afraid places like Pec, Djakovica and Prizren in the West and in the South will take longer.

TERENCE SMITH: What’s the role of the KLA in all of this in these revenge attacks? They also give, to use your phrase, lip service against it. But the question is: Are they or their units sometimes behind it?

A declaration of peace

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: I didn’t use the term lip service because I believe that the leaders, in particular, Mr. Attachi, is genuine when he says that he is against what is happening. Now, you know that he even signed, at his risk, a joint declaration with Serb leaders in my own office in Pristina on the 2nd of July, condemning atrocities against the Serbs and promising to do his best to restore a climate of security for them to be able to remain. And I believe he did that in the knowledge that that represented the wishes of the majority of the Albanians in Kosovo. But that does not mean that he actually controls all of those who are actually acting within this rather loose KLA structure, or indeed those who claim to be members of the KLA and who have been committing some of these brutal acts invoking the name and even the symbols of the KLA and whom he believes do not belong to the KLA at all. So we have many facets to this tragic situation, and I don’t think one can lay the blame entirely at the doorsteps of the political leadership of the KLA. But I repeat, he and other Albanian leaders do have the responsibility in reigning in those who are committing these acts, invoking the name of the KLA.

TERENCE SMITH: Is the KLA the de facto government in areas of Kosovo?

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: In certain municipalities, some of the mayors have either appointed themselves, again, claiming to be representing the KLA, or indeed have been appointed by the KLA. This is a reality. I have told Mr. Attachi and I know my successor has done the same, that as long as we can establish that these persons, whether they are self-appointed, whether they were appointed by the KLA or by the LDK or by any other political forces in Kosovo, including incidentally, the remaining Serb municipal authorities, as long as they are behaving in accordance with democratic principles, as long as they are inclusive, as long as they respect the wishes and the interests of all the communities living in that municipality, they can be co-opted and they will be supervised by the administration of the United Nations. If they do not, they will be removed because we have the power to do so, and KFOR will support us.

TERENCE SMITH: Mr. De Mello, you’re just back from that area from Kosovo, if you were a Serb, would you remain in Kosovo, or would you return to Kosovo?

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: That is a very, very difficult question. You know that when General Mike and myself appealed in many different ways and in many different places of Kosovo to Serbs to remain, we were faced, as you can imagine, with a terrible personal dilemma. Were we doing the right thing? I believe that we should be careful. We should encourage those whom we can protect, either those who are in enclaves on the very solid protection of KFOR, or those who are living in majority areas in the North or in the extreme eastern parts of Kosovo, I believe those can remain. And others who have been displaced from other areas have in fact moved to the North and to the East. For others -

TERENCE SMITH: And the others that are perhaps more displaced or isolated?

Establishing a stronger presence

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: No. At present, I must say the way things are developing certainly I would not encourage them to remain, although I repeat, I believe in a matter of months, what we’re witnessing will have stopped and we will be in a better position then to encourage them to come back. That is certainly our wish. I repeat, ethnic purity is basically a Nazi concept. That is what the allied powers fought against during the second world war. That’s what the United Nations was established to fight against over the decades. That is what NATO fought against in fact in Kosovo. And that’s that is why the Security Council requested us to establish such a strong presence in Kosovo, precisely to prevent ethnic purity and to make Kosovo remain what it should be because all the communities have a historical interest in remaining in that province.

TERENCE SMITH: And very briefly, in the few seconds have left, can you give us any estimate of how long and how much money it will take to rebuild Kosovo?

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Oh, rebuilding Kosovo is I don’t think a problem right now. As a matter of fact, you know, that we’re even a bit worried in the United Nations, and certainly we humanitarians, by the magnitude of sympathy and even financial support expressed particularly at a conference in Brussels on the 28th of July in the case of Kosovo, and the lack thereof in other emergencies, particularly on the African continent. But the reconstruction of the social fabric, the reconstruction of trust and confidence between those communities, that certainly will take longer. The wounds were very deep, and it will take quite some time to heal them. But that is what the United Nations and the international military presence are there to make happen. Just don’t expect that to happen overnight.

TERENCE SMITH: Mr. De Mello, thanks very much for joining us.

SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Thank you for inviting me.