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Uncertainty Hampers Kosovo Mission

March 5, 2000

PREKAZ, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Muhamet Veliu pauses in reverence inside the shell-pocked compound where an independence hero’s death touched off the Kosovo war.

``Here is where he fell,″ Veliu says quietly, pointing to the spot where Adem Jashari, reputed leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, died on March 6, 1998, during a police siege that made his family compound Kosovo’s Alamo.

As ethnic Albanians mark the second anniversary of Jashari’s killing at the start of their fight for independence from Yugoslavia, the province remains volatile, its future uncertain.

International officials ostensibly in charge of pacifying and rebuilding Kosovo are lurching from one crisis to another without a clear vision of where they are going.

Even top generals, like British Maj. Gen. John Milne, acknowledge they didn’t know what they were getting into last June when NATO and the United Nations rushed in to restore order after NATO’s bombing campaign ended an 18-month Serb crackdown on Kosovo’s Albanian majority.

Kosovo has proven, in Milne’s words, a ``much more complex and complicated task than anyone would have foreseen.″

The effort to get Albanians and Serbs to live together in peace makes the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia look easy. There, all sides accepted a detailed peace plan for the former Yugoslav republic’s future, and NATO sent troops to enforce it.

But here, the U.N. resolution that established the peacekeeping operation said only that the goal was to establish ``substantial autonomy and self-government″ pending ``a final settlement″ of the province’s status.

For Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s people, the only acceptable ``final status″ is independence. Serbs still see their future as part of Yugoslavia.

On paper at least, all the countries with troops in Kosovo favor the Serb interpretation.

As long as such uncertainty remains, the situation isn’t about to improve, said Dukagjin Gorani, editor of the region’s leading Albanian newspaper, Koha Ditore. Western players must deal with Kosovo’s problems more comprehensively or face the humiliation of pulling out in failure, he added.

``Maybe not some kind of Somalia, but some setback to the international community could take place,″ Gorani said.

Nowhere is the danger any greater than in Kosovska Mitrovica, the French-controlled industrial city 25 miles northwest of Pristina, the provincial capital. It is divided by the Ibar River into a Serb section to the north and an Albanian section to the south.

As the largest remaining Serb community in Kosovo, the north has become a sort of Serbian oasis, where Yugoslav money is accepted, Serb police in civilian clothes investigate crimes and the post office, banks and other institutions function almost as if there had never been a war.

The city’s ethnic Albanians, who thought the presence of Western forces would mean the end of Serb-dominated institutions, are furious. The Serbs are intent to prevent change. Violent demonstrations have become common.

The absence of a plan for Kosovo is hampering efforts to pacify the city. The French general, Pierre de Saqui de Sannes, has balked at orders from NATO’s commander, Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, to pull troops out of their armored cars and send them on foot patrols that have proven effective for the British in Pristina.

American officers also don’t want to expose their soldiers to snipers and angry rock throwers. They have told NATO that Washington doesn’t want to send GIs back to Kosovska Mitrovica, where they briefly reinforced French troops during an upsurge of violence last month.

The Americans have troubles of their own. Last week, Brig. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez had to cajole a Serb crowd into ending their siege of 15 of his soldiers. The unit was surrounded for six hours after they refused to hand over a Serb they arrested on a weapons charge.

Gen. Silvio Mazzaroli, an Italian general who was recently recalled for criticizing the militaries of other NATO nations, told an Italian newspaper the peace mission is suffering because of the failure to decide what Kosovo should become, especially the undefined question of autonomy.

``Is that really possible?″ Mazzaroli said of autonomy. ``We speak of multi-ethnicity and instead we are trying to realize only a difficult coexistence between two groups that have spent the past 10 years killing each other.″

Adding to problems, a new ethnic Albanian rebel group has emerged. These fighters, modeled after the KLA, say they must resist attacks by Serb police who have been sweeping through ethnic Albanian villages in a 2 1/2-mile-wide no-man’s land between NATO peacekeepers and Serb forces.

Key international officials are urging patience, suggesting the mission needs more time for the people of Kosovo to run their own affairs through new self-governing administrative bodies..

``We’ll see if the international community loses steam in fighting all these brush fires,″ said a U.N. spokeswoman, Susan Manuel. ``It is a very fine line to be walked in the coming year.″

No one, Manuel insists, is talking about pulling out.

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