Thursday, January 4, 2001

GENEVA The United Nations is evaluating its role in Kosovo in the face of assessments that the rebellious Serbian province will remain an international problem for years to come.

The area freed from Serbian control by Western military action 18 months ago has been described in some U.N. documents as “a cripple whose leadership is short of talent and honesty.”

In some of his most recent statements, Bernard Kouchner, the departing U.N. administrator of the province, stressed that above all, the world should understand that “Kosovo is not a Yugoslav but an international problem.”

“If Europe is to be stable, it will need a stable Balkans, and the stability of the Balkans depends on Kosovo,” he said.

He sees the province inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians, known as Kosovars, as a long-term U.N. “protectorate” administered by a succession of temporary officials, many of whom lack qualifications for the task.

Mr. Kouchner was named high representative of the U.N. secretary-general in July 1999. A former French minister of health and co-founder of the charity organization Doctors Without Borders, Mr. Kouchner is credited with establishing “substantial foundations” for Kosovo’s autonomy.

He will be replaced Jan. 15 by Danish Defense Minister Hans Kaekkerup.

In a recent conversation, Mr. Kouchner pointed out that Kosovo’s independence in the long term is inevitable and that sooner or later it will be accepted by the Serbs, many of whom still consider the province to be Serbia’s historic heartland.

At the same time, he said that he did not believe in Kosovo’s viability on its own but only in a federation with one of its neighbors.

Apparently some Kosovar leaders believe in the possibility of such a federation with Montenegro, a maverick Yugoslav republic trying to disengage itself from Serbia.

Diplomats see myriad obstacles in the path of a union between Christian Orthodox Montenegrins and predominantly Muslim Kosovars. To Mr. Kouchner, religious feelings play no significant role in the fragmented remnants of Yugoslavia.

He does, however, consider the possibility of a drawn-out tug-of-war between Serbs and Kosovars, unlikely to be attenuated by international efforts.

“Kosovo’s reality is violence,” he said last week. “I do not excuse it, but am merely warning that we must not rush, the wounds are not healed and not all mass graves have been opened. Extremists on both sides are still active.”

Other diplomatic assessments concur, pointing out that at this time the Balkans are faced with continuing hostility between Serbs and Kosovars.

Mr. Kouchner said he deplored the speed with which the international community rushed to embrace the Serb government following the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic and the re-establishment of a democratic system there.

“For the Kosovo Albanians, nothing has changed,” he told the Paris daily Le Figaro earlier. “We are happy that there is no more Milosevic, but the Albanians [of Kosovo] still regard the situation in colonial terms. They are all in favor of independence.”

From the legal point of view, Kosovo is still a province of Serbia, although Serbian authorities function only in a few areas inhabited by an ethnic Serbian population.

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