IHT - UN falls short in Kosovo

By Lucian Perkins

Paris, Monday, December 27, 1999

It took immense effort to combat the evils of Serbian ''ethnic cleansing'' to permit the return of Kosovar Albanians whom Slobodan Milosevic had rounded up and expelled. Kosovo stands now as a test case of the merits of military intervention to defend human rights. Just in the last few weeks, the United Nations has issued abject apologies for its failure, in Rwanda and Bosnia, to devote sufficient resources to prevent bloodshed. Yet in Kosovo, the United Nations is again falling short, and innocent civilians are being killed.

The UN initially planned an international force of 6,000 policemen to help restore order and protect minorities in Kosovo. But so far, countries have sent only 1,800 - a ''scandal,'' says Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosovo.

The broken promises are part of a larger syndrome of forgetfulness and unrealistic expectations. A surreal debate rages over whether Serb forces murdered 10,000 Kosovar civilians or ''only'' 6,000 or 4,000 or 2,000 - as if the lower number would excuse everything. There seems to be a desire to forget that Serbs forced an entire nation from its homes, raped women, poisoned wells, forced men into basements to be burned to death. There is a kind of amnesia about the thousands of Kosovar civilians who remain unjustly imprisoned inside Serbia - and about the ultimate architect of these war crimes, who remains comfortably ensconced in power in Belgrade.

This is not to excuse the revenge killings carried out by elements of the Kosovo Liberation Army - far from it. But polls show that most Kosovo Albanians But Unfortunately, the wishes of the majority alone cannot stop crime. Nor can U.S., German and other NATO troops, who are not trained or equipped to prevent or investigate murder.

For that, Kosovo needs a police force: a local one, such as the United Nations is now beginning to train, and an international one, to fill a void until the local police are ready. By stinting on the relatively modest contributions, UN member nations are risking Kosovo's chances to achieve peace, democracy and reconciliation. ''Scandal'' is too mild a word.

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