CEOL - UN, KFOR tackle Kosovo crime, defend record

PRISTINA, Dec 14, 1999 -- (Reuters) International officials on Monday announced new measures to crack down on the violence and impunity which have plagued postwar Kosovo and mounted a staunch defense of their first six months in charge of the territory.

Bernard Kouchner, the head of Kosovo's United Nations-led administration, said he would appoint 400 extra judges and prosecutors and change the applicable law in an effort to kick start a justice system which has barely functioned.

General Klaus Reinhardt, commander of the 50,000-strong NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, said his troops would mount more joint patrols with Kosovo's international police force.

Speaking at a news conference with other senior officials to mark half a year of KFOR and the U.N. in Kosovo, both men insisted their staff had accomplished much in a short time.

But officials also acknowledged they had not yet got a grip on crime and ethnically motivated violence, although both have declined since KFOR and the U.N. arrived after 11 weeks of NATO bombing to end repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

"The intervention by NATO in Kosovo in the first place was to protect a minority and to ensure the human rights of the oppressed and vulnerable," Kouchner said.

"Our efforts to do the same for the current minorities, particularly the Serbs, have partially failed."

Some 420 murders have been committed in the past six months, according to KFOR and U.N. statistics, with Serbs in particular the victims of gruesome attacks by revenge-seeking Albanians.

Kouchner said Kosovo, which legally remains part of Yugoslavia, would get its own penal code and use laws in force before it was stripped of its autonomy in 1989.

Attempt to get judges working

The move is intended to win over ethnic Albanian judges and lawyers who have refused to apply current Yugoslav and Serbian legislation. But it may prove controversial in Belgrade, which insists Kosovo is still under its overall jurisdiction.

"With all these steps, Kosovo should enter the new millennium as a more secure place...where crime is not tolerated and where justice is available for all," Kouchner said.

The former French health minister also took aim at critics in the media who have accused his administration of being too slow to get a basic infrastructure up and running.

"Many people say we've been slow, but slow to do what?" he said. "Does anyone remember what we found here six months ago? Empty streets. Shuttered shops. No water. No work."

He cited getting health and education systems going again, establishing a customs service, and providing emergency repair kits to around 60,000 families whose homes were damaged by conflict among his administration's successes.

Reinhardt said his troops had already accomplished much of their mission by ensuring Serb forces had withdrawn and had stayed out. They were now focusing on increasing protection for Serbs and other minorities, seen as collaborators by Albanians.

"Three out of four of my soldiers are out day and night patrolling," the German general said.

"I now have 1,000 soldiers on static guard duty every day. Their sole purpose is the guarding of houses, churches or other sites where ethnic minorities are located," he added.

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