- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

NEW YORK U.N. Security Council members expressed dismay yesterday at the size of the task they undertook when they mandated the rebuilding of Kosovo after last year's mass evacuation of ethnic Albanians and NATO's 78-day bombing campaign.

"It is impossible for us, sitting in New York, to get an idea" of the work to be done, said Bangladeshi Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdury, who just led a delegation to the ravaged Yugoslav province. "The enormity of the task of Unmik could not be comprehended here."

Unmik stands for the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, which the council established last year to provide civilian rule in a territory riven by ethnic hatred between its ethnic Albanian majority and a shrinking Serbian minority.

"I am sure that when the Security Council passed Resolution 1244, it had no idea how big the task would be, how involved and engaged Unmik would be in running the day-to-day affairs of Kosovo," Mr. Chowdury had said a day earlier in Kosovo.

Eight council members returned from the three-day visit to Kosovo on Sunday evening, having crisscrossed the blasted province from Kosovska Mitrovica in the north to Pristina in the east to Prizren in the south.

They also met with the U.N. civilian administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner of France, who repeatedly has begged the council and donor nations to support reconstruction efforts for a region where 60 percent of the population was displaced for part of the past year.

Mr. Chowdury called on the U.N. secretariat to fill the 55 percent of the civil administration posts that are still vacant, and on member nations to send more civilian police and other personnel.

Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Ambassador Shen Guofeng angered their fellow ambassadors by traveling ahead of them to Belgrade, where they met privately with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr. Milosevic has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia a body created in 1994 by the council itself. China and Russia had vigorously opposed NATO intervention in Kosovo, saying the affairs of the province were an internal matter for Yugoslavia.

Representatives of the United States, Canada and Bangladesh said the meeting with Mr. Milosevic had jeopardized the delegation's appearance of neutrality.

No leading NATO nations took part in the Kosovo delegation, with ambassadors from France, the United States and Britain opting instead to join a trip that leaves today for Congo.

The Kosovo delegation did include ambassadors from Malaysia, Argentina, Ukraine, Canada and Jamaica.

The excursion was the second real-world field trip for council members. The first, to East Timor, was taken last fall.

The United Nations has become the de facto government of Kosovo, undertaking tasks ranging from licensing ice cream sales in public places to issuing postage stamps and travel documents. It must supervise police recruits and rebuild courts and schools.

Mr. Chowdury and other council members noted that Kosovo remains a part of Yugoslavia, saying that even the declaration of German marks as the local currency does not diminish Belgrade's nominal sovereignty over the area.

In recent press conferences and reports, Mr. Chowdury often has expressed surprise at the conditions there. But he insisted yesterday that no members of the council regretted getting involved in the reconstruction.

"The U.N. is doing a magnificent job under the circumstances," he said.

The trip was an eye-opener from the beginning, with thousands of Kosovars staging street demonstrations for the delegation in order to demand the release of ethnic Albanians they say are held in Serbian prisons.

U.N. police kept demonstrators away from the entrance to the U.N. compound, but the visit was marked by daily marches with banners and silent vigils.

Mr. Chowdury said he was moved by the sight, and that the council could not maintain its credibility if it failed to address the issue.

He suggested that a special envoy be appointed to investigate the whereabouts of detained and missing persons, which the ethnic Albanians say number 7,000. The International Committee of the Red Cross says the figure is more like 2,000, while Serbs say it is half that.

The delegation's report to the Security Council, discussed in a private meeting yesterday, noted complaints from Serbs that they were cut off from the transitional administration and unable to leave small protected enclaves without fear of reprisals.

Mr. Lavrov, of Russia, made similar points on the trip, most recently after a solo meeting with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zividan Jovanovic.

Although gains have been made in the recruitment of civilian police, Unmik struggles to cope with monumental gaps in public administration.

Serbs continue to threaten to boycott general elections tentatively scheduled this month. Efforts are under way, the ambassador said, to open voter registration centers in Serbian areas.

"The total absence of Serbs will take away some of the credibility of the elections," he said. "We hope they realize it is in their interest to join."

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