Kosovo mission goals cut in face of ethnic hatred

PRISTINA, Mar 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) Almost a year after NATO began bombing Serb forces to relieve ethnic Albanians from persecution, Kosovo peacemakers acknowledge they have trimmed their goals in the face of daunting levels of hatred.

The international community's idealistic hope of building a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo from the ruins of war has been shelved in favour of a more realistic target - the peaceful co-existence of peoples, side by side but not together.

The shift came as early as last December, officials from the United Nations and the NATO-led KFOR peace force say, but has gained prominence in the run-up to the anniversary of the NATO bombing that forced Serb forces from Kosovo.

NATO warplanes began air strikes against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999.

"The time of illusions is over," said Lt-Col. Henning Philipps, KFOR spokesman. "Our aim has been scaled down to peaceful co-existence and this we think we can achieve. People will live alongside their neighbours and not harm them."

NATO forces rode into Kosovo last June with high hopes that they could peacefully return hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians forced from their homes by Serb terror campaigns that intensified after Western bombing began.

Such hopes were quickly dashed in a welter of revenge attacks by returning Kosovo Albanians, which forced some 250,000 Serbs and other minorities to flee. The murderous assaults only slackened when there were few targets left.

Balkan watchers say that after decades of Serb oppression of ethnic Albanians it was no surprise refugees returned with a vengeful spirit. But the persistent hatred between Serbs and Albanians and the continued killings have appalled the West.

"The whole international community was a little naive when it came here," a Western diplomat in Kosovo said. "We were shocked the idealistic approach didn't work. But only when we saw it wasn't working were we ready to try another approach."


The head of the U.N. mission to restore and revive Kosovo, Frenchman Bernard Kouchner, drew up a policy paper called "Agenda for peaceful co-existence" in December.

Officials say it forms a more rational basis for policy-making than the idealistic goal of creating a multi-ethnic society, pursuit of which was exposing the U.N. mission to ridicule.

"Its a recognition of the fact that multi-ethnicity is not for today or even tomorrow. Now the buzz-word has become co-existence," the Western diplomat said.

Under the new approach, some segregation of communities is accepted and practical steps are taken to improve the lives of isolated communities, mostly Serbs living in enclaves under NATO armed protection, in order to win their confidence.

The U.N. cited the opening of a health clinic for several thousand Serbs surrounded in the town of Gracanica, who are too afraid to travel outside for medical treatment. Its creation was hailed as a success for the "agenda of co-existence."

The shift in emphasis has been accompanied by some blunt lowering of expectations by top officials, including Kouchner, who recently told a French newspaper that reconciliation and multi-ethnicity were impossible in Kosovo for the time being.

The same gloomy assessment of Kosovo's future has been given by NATO commanders, together with a forecast that international forces will be here for more than a decade.

It is now almost unheard of for Serbs and ethnic Albanians to mingle anywhere in Kosovo, unless it is under the auspices of the international community. Minorities live under KFOR guard and need military escorts to shop, visit friends or travel.

"Its clear to everyone now that the different peoples here can't stand each other," a U.N. official said. "The wounds are still fresh, they're not ready to forget and we've had to adjust our language to reflect that."

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