STEVEN ERLANGERUN official warns of losing the peace in Kosovo
July 3, 2000
PRISTINA, Kosovo, July 2 -- As the humane "pillar" of the United Nations administration in Kosovo prepares to shut down, its job of emergency relief deemed to be over, its director has some advice for the next great international mission to rebuild a country: be prepared to invest as much money and effort in winning the peace as in fighting the war.
Dennis McNamara, the United Nations special envoy for humanitarian affairs, regional director for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees and a deputy to the United Nations chief administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, leaves Kosovo proud of the way the international community saved lives here after the war, which ended a year ago.
Mr. McNamara helped to coordinate nearly 300 private and government organizations to provide emergency shelter, food, health care and transport to nearly one million Kosovo Albanian refugees who have returned.
Despite delays in aid and reconstruction, including severe shortages of electricity and running water, no one is known to have died here last winter from exposure or hunger. Up to half of the population -- 900,000 people a day -- was fed by international agencies last winter and spring, and a program to clear land mines and unexploded NATO ordnance is proceeding apace.
But Mr. McNamara, 54, a New Zealander who began his United Nations refugee work in 1975 with the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people, is caustic about the continuing and worsening violence against non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo, especially the remaining Serbs and Roma, or Gypsies. He says the United Nations, Western governments and NATO have been too slow and timid in their response.
"There was from the start an environment of tolerance for intolerance and revenge," he said. "There was no real effort or interest in trying to deter or stop it. There was an implicit endorsement of it by everybody -- by the silence of the Albanian political leadership and by the lack of active discouragement of it by the West."
Action was needed, he said, in the first days and weeks, when the old images of Albanians forced out of Kosovo on their tractors were replaced by Serbs fleeing Kosovo on their tractors, and as it became clear that the effort to push minorities out of Kosovo was continuing and organized.
"This is not why we fought the war," Mr. McNamara said. He noted that in recent weeks there had been a new spate of comments by Western leaders, including President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and the NATO secretary general, Lord Robertson, warning the Albanians that the West would not continue its support for Kosovo if violence against minorities continued at such a pace and in organized fashion.
But previous warnings and admonitions have not been followed by any action, Mr. McNamara noted. In general, he and others suggested, there is simply a tendency to put an optimistic gloss on events here and to avoid confrontation with former guerrillas who fought for independence for Kosovo or with increasingly active gangs of organized criminals.
"This violence against the minorities has been too prolonged and too widespread not to be systematic," Mr. McNamara said, giving voice to views that he has made known throughout his time here. "We can't easily say who's behind it, but we can say we have not seen any organized effort to stop it or any effort to back up the rhetoric of tolerance from Albanian leaders with any meaningful action."
In the year since NATO took over complete control of Kosovo and Serbian troops and policemen left the province, there have been some 500 killings, a disproportionate number of them committed against Serbs and other minorities.
But there has not been a single conviction. The judicial system is still not functioning, and local and international officials here say that witnesses are intimidated or killed and are afraid to come forward, pressure has been put on some judges to quit and many of those arrested for murder and other serious crimes have been released, either because of lack of prison space or the inability to bring them to trial.
Only recently has the United Nations decided to bring in international prosecutors and judges, but finding them and persuading them to come to Kosovo has not been easy. And foreign governments have been very slow to send the police officers they promised to patrol the streets.
Now, some 3,100 of a promised 4,800 have arrived, although Mr. Kouchner wanted 6,000. The big problem, Mr. McNamara said, is the generally poor quality of the police officers who have come, some of whom have had to be sent home because they could neither drive nor handle their weapons. And coordination between the police and the military has been haphazard and slow.
"The West should have started to build up institutions of a civil society from day one," Mr. McNamara said. "And there should have been a wide use of emergency powers by the military at the beginning to prevent the growth of this culture of impunity, where no one is punished. I'm a human rights lawyer, but I'd break the rules to establish order and security at the start, to get the word out that it's not for free."
Similarly, the NATO troops that form the backbone of the United Nations peacekeeping force here were too cautious about breaking down the artificial barrier created by the Serbs in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, Mr. McNamara said.
Northern Mitrovica is now inhabited almost entirely by Serbs, marking an informal partition of Kosovo that extends up to the province's border with the rest of Serbia, creating a zone where the Yugoslav government of President Slobodan Milosevic exercises significant control, infuriating Kosovo's Albanian majority.
"Having allowed Mitrovica to slip away in the first days and weeks, it's very hard to regain it now," Mr. McNamara said. "Why wasn't there strong action to take control of Mitrovica from the outset? We're living with the consequences of that now."
In the last two months, as attacks on Serbs have increased again in Kosovo, Serbs in northern Mitrovica have attacked United Nations aid workers, equipment and offices, causing Mr. McNamara to pull aid workers temporarily out of the town. After promises from the effective leader of the northern Mitrovica Serbs, Oliver Ivanovic, those workers returned.
Another significant problem has been the lack of a "unified command" of the peacekeeping troops, Mr. McNamara said. Their overall commander, currently a Spanish general, cannot order around the troops of constituent countries. Washington controls the American troops, Paris the French ones and so on.
And there are no common rules of engagement or behavior in the various countries' military sectors of Kosovo.
"The disparities in the sectors are real," Mr. McNamara said. And after American troops were stoned as they tried to aid French troops in Mitrovica last spring, the Pentagon ordered the American commander here not to send his troops out of the American sector of Kosovo.
While the Pentagon denies a blanket ban, officers in the Kosovo peacekeeping operation support Mr. McNamara's assertion. They say no commanders here want to risk their troops in the kind of significant confrontation required to break down the ethnic barriers of Mitrovica.
The United Nations has had difficulties of organization and financing, Mr. McNamara readily acknowledges. "But governments must bear the main responsibility," he said. "Governments decide what the United Nations will be, and what resources governments commit to the conflict they won't commit to the peace."
Governments want to dump problems like Kosovo onto the United Nations to avoid responsibility, he said. The United Nations should develop "a serious checklist" of requirements and commitments from governments before it agrees to another Kosovo, Mr. McNamara said, "and the U.N. should be able to say no."