British general returns to Kosovo, meets former guerrilla leaders

PRISTINA, Sep 7, 2000 -- (AFP) The British general who led the KFOR peacekeeping force into Kosovo returned to the province Wednesday and met with former ethnic Albanian guerrilla leaders.

General Michael Jackson, now commander-in-chief of the British army, met the former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Agim Ceku, and the separatist force's ex-political chief, Hashim Thaci.

As the first commander of KFOR, Jackson oversaw the KLA's conversion to an unarmed civil defense militia, the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). Back in Kosovo 11 months after the end of his command, he told AFP he was encouraged by the progress the group had made.

"Agim Ceku understands the complexities of the situation," he said. "The KPC has matured."

As leaders of the KLA, Ceku and Thaci fought for a Kosovo independent from Yugoslavia, and have never abandoned that goal. But under the UN security council resolution that set up Kosovo's UN-led administration and gave KFOR responsibility for security in the territory, Kosovo is to remain part of the federal republic, enjoying no more than "substantial autonomy."

"The bible for us all here is UN Security Council resolution 1244," Jackson said, referring to the work of KFOR and the UN mission. He said that the ethnic Albanian leaders he had met had adopted a practical attitude in the build-up to Kosovo's first post war municipal elections next month.

"What I found this afternoon was an acceptance of where Kosovo is now," he said, adding: "The endgame has yet to be defined."

The general, whose no-nonsense attitude as an officer in Britain's elite Parachute Regiment earned him the nickname "Macho Jacko," also met Kosovo's chief UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner.

More than 15 months after the KLA's bitter war against largely Serbian Yugoslav forces was brought to an end by the arrival of KFOR, Kosovo is still plagued by ethnic and political violence.

The province's Serbian population has become the target of revenge attacks since the end of the war and around 210,000 non-ethnic Albanians have fled the province, accusing KFOR of failing to protect them.

In the build-up to the October 28 municipal polls there has also been a series of apparently politically motivated attacks on ethnic Albanian politicians, most of which are believed by international observers to be the work of former KLA fighters.

Jackson said he had given an interview to a Kosovo radio station and urged listeners to refrain from violence.

"It is a huge privilege to be able to take part in the UN mission's elections," he said, "I called on people not to mar this by violence."

Jackson met with Ceku at the KPC's headquarters on the outskirts of Pristina. Although the force is now legally a civilian unit dedicated to disaster relief and reconstruction work, it has retained its military uniforms and command structure and its premises are guarded by troops armed with automatic rifles.

Later the general, accompanied by Kouchner and Baroness Elizabeth Symons, Britain's defense procurement minister, met Thaci and senior members of his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) in a Pristina restaurant.

Original article