- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2000


"Please. Stop asking nasty questions. Ask romantic questions. Have you seen this story?" Bernard Kouchner asked a small group of journalists gathered to hear the tales of his time as director of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. He was talking about the U.N. work there, which he praised for bringing 49 nations and more together to fight side by side against Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic's forces. He is including the achievement on his resume, having announced Thursday that he is a candidate for the top post in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one of the most prestigious jobs in the international organization.
For all of Mr. Kouchner's "romantic" visions, the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo remain at war with themselves and with the Serbs. Indeed, for all the concern over the "ethnic cleansing" the Serbs once waged against the Albanians, the Albanians have spent the last 15 months giving the Serbs the same treatment. Mr. Kouchner admits the conflict will probably take close to one generation to change, and that the work done in the mostly ethnic Albanian province hasn't succeeded.
While his own boss, Kofi Annan, was warning that Albanian hard-liners were derailing Kosovo's transition to self-government, Mr. Kouchner expressed confidence that Oct. 28 municipal elections in Kosovo will help promote that aim, notwithstanding the 5,000 candidates from 19 parties from which the Kosovars must choose. And if the elections don't? "I have the power, according to my own resolution signed by me, to dismiss everybody" that he doesn't like, he said.
In June, he closed down the Kosovar newspaper Dita because it had listed the name of a 25-year-old Serb translator for the U.N. as a war criminal, who was subsequently killed. Mr. Kouchner has taken on the job of censor, autocrat and legislator in a land that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 mandates as having substantial autonomy and territorial integrity of its own.
Sadako Ogata, the current UNHCR head, leaves the world with high expectations. During her service throughout the Kosovo bombing campaign, she went personally to the refugee camps and sought assistance on their behalf, even though crises in other parts of Europe, Africa and Asia demanded her attention. She also took on the jobs of fund-raiser, logistics expert and security provider over her 10-year tenure as high commissioner.
Her job is not one for the exhausted (Mr. Kouchner called Kosovo a "tiring place"), nor is the United Nations advertising for dreamers. For the 30 million refugees worldwide that will be begging for humanitarian assistance backed by sound strategy, the top post will need a compassionate voice and a firm will. Romantics need not apply.

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