IHT - Pay attention to what is going right in Kosovo

Paris, Wednesday, December 8, 1999

By George Robertson - Washington Post Service

BRUSSELS - It has become distressingly fashionable to belittle the efforts of the international community in Kosovo. It is true that the situation is not as good as any of us would like. But the acts of hatred and vengeance that still occur, albeit on a much smaller scale than before, are not the whole story.

Only six months ago, nearly a million Kosovars were living in refugee camps. Inside Kosovo a further 500,000 people had fled their homes, which were being systematically destroyed to prevent them from returning. Organized, massive violence and destruction were being deliberately inflicted on the civilian population.

Today more than 800,000 refugees have returned home. The hostilities have ended, and all Serbian forces have withdrawn. The Kosovo Liberation Army has been disbanded and demilitarized by the international force known as KFOR, handing over some 10,000 weapons.

Newspapers have highlighted individual attacks against Serbs and other minorities. But the murder rate in Kosovo has dropped significantly. The 25 murders in October were fewer than occurred in many of the world's larger cities that month.

Maintaining security will remain NATO's most pressing task. There are still too few international civilian police, but progress is being made. The UN civil police have taken over responsibility for law and order in Pristina and Prizren. A few days ago, the first multiethnic class of the Kosovo Police Academy graduated. Judges and court officers are being appointed on a multiethnic basis.

The humanitarian assistance situation is improving as well. The United Nations' winterization program is about 70 percent complete. The World Food Program is providing aid to 650,000 Kosovars, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others are providing shelter kits that benefit 380,000 people. The whole province resembles an enormous building site.

Some 500 schools have been demined, and 300,000 children went back to school this fall to be taught in their own language for the first time in 10 years. The main power plant in Kosovo was recently reopened, and the amount of electricity generated in Kosovo today is almost triple the level produced in the past.

This winter will not be an easy one for the people of Kosovo, but the United Nations, nongovernmental agencies and KFOR, working together, will ensure that basic needs are met.

Pledges of more than $1 billion in aid through the end of 2000 were made at the Second Kosovo Donors' Conference held in Brussels on Nov. 17.

War crimes investigations are also well in hand. KFOR has assisted the International Criminal Tribunal in locating and securing 500 grave sites. So far, work has been completed at nearly 200 sites and more than 2,000 bodies have been exhumed. Investigators have found evidence that bodies were removed from many sites before the arrival of international teams.

The full scope of the ethnic murdering under Slobodan Milosevic may never be known, but we remain firmly committed to prosecuting those responsible for these horrific crimes.

It is true that the situation is far from rosy, but it is far better than in the past. Kosovo suffered 40 years of disastrous Communist economic policies and 10 years of de facto apartheid under Mr. Milosevic even before ethnic cleansing began. Against this sad history, reconstruction, reconciliation and the building of a secure peace will take more than the few months that KFOR and the UN mission in Kosovo have had in that province thus far.

The experiences of Northern Ireland, Lebanon and Bosnia show that with patience and determination, progress that was once thought impossible can be achieved. The goal of a democratic, multiethnic Kosovo will require our continuing commitment in coming years. Without it, the current hope felt by Kosovars will give way to disillusionment, and our investment in stabilizing that corner of Europe will be lost. Our work is cut out for us, but we have made a good beginning. Now we must see the job through.

The writer, a former British defense minister, is secretary-general of NATO. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.

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