Lack of funds hampers Kosovo poll plans

PRISTINA, Serbia, Jan 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bernard Kouchner, the head of Kosovo's United Nations-led administration, has complained that a lack of funds forced him to delay preparations for elections expected in the province this year.

Kouchner warned governments they must not turn their attention away from the disputed territory and the rest of the Balkans in 2000 or they risked a return to the violence and instability synonymous with the region in the past decade.

"It's all too easy to say Kosovo's over. It's not over at all - it's ahead of us," the former French health minister said in a New Year's interview with Reuters Television News.

Kouchner said U.N. members, especially European states, must be prepared to commit more money and resources to Kosovo.

He said his administration had not even been able to begin registering the population, hampering election preparations.

"We didn't start the registration and delivering of identity cards because of the lack of money," a visibly frustrated Kouchner said. "It makes me really angry...This is important for the people, and for the world - stability in the Balkans."

U.N. officials had hoped to begin registering the population in the closing months of last year.

Kouchner said the earliest elections could now realistically be held would be September, if registration finally got under way in January or February. He said he planned to stay in his post until around the time of the elections.

The international administration has been running Kosovo since June, when Serb forces withdrew after 11 weeks of NATO bombing to end Serb repression of an ethnic Albanian majority excluded from political and public life for a decade.

U.N. To Oversee Elections

Part of the U.N.'s mission is to oversee and organize elections, which international officials see as absolutely key in establishing a modern and stable democracy in Kosovo to replace the authoritarianism and violence of its recent history.

The first polls would be municipal elections but possibly could also elect a Kosovo-wide body, Kouchner said.

Kouchner, originally a medical doctor by profession and a founder member of the Nobel Prize winning medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, also said donors had to give more funding to essential services.

"If people can't receive medical treatment because I can't pay the doctors or the nurses, it's ridiculous," he said.

Kouchner's administration currently collects little revenue from postwar Kosovo, where much of the economy is not working, leaving it dependent on international contributions to run the public sector.

The administration has been paying stipends to public sector workers of between DM 100 and 300 per month. Kouchner said Kosovars would only tolerate this for so long.

"It should be impossible to maintain a such a level of stipends, of nothing, for more than six months," he said.

"Not only is it unfair - because people are working hard here in Kosovo - but this is impossible, politically, to support for them."

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