Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Tests KLA in Effort to Exert Authority

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- The UN mission in Kosovo is finally moving to establish its authority here as the province's government, to try to fill the vacuum exploited by the Kosovo Liberation Army and those acting in its name.

Senior UN officials admit that they are now in a period of testing and challenging the KLA and its political and military leaders. But they are also eager not to act like an imperial power or to drive the KLA into opposition.

To that end, Bernard Kouchner, the chief UN administrator in Kosovo and the province's effective tsar, says he wants to pull the KLA and others into the exercise of power. He will offer to provide them a share of executive responsibility, through a Transitional Council that will meet next week.

To the same end, Kouchner said he intends to organize supervised, province-wide elections for a provisional parliament as early as April, much earlier than some in the international bureaucracy desire.

"We're not in southern Sudan. We don't have to teach people here how to vote,'' Kouchner said.

"If they campaigned and voted underground under Slobodan Milosevic, they can certainly campaign openly,'' he added, referring to the Yugoslav president.

But no one has convincing answers about how to give quick security and confidence to the 20,000 to 25,000 Serbs remaining in Kosovo - other than to concentrate them in protected enclaves - let alone how to entice the 160,000 or so Serbs who have fled over the last year to return.

While the United Nations has been very slow to get started, the organization and the international peacekeepers have concentrated in the last week on actions intended to symbolize the exercise of real authority.

The peacekeepers have raided the headquarters of the KLA's shadowy Public Order Ministry, seizing weapons, cash and unauthorized "police'' identity cards, and temporarily arresting its "minister,'' Rexhep Selimi, as well as KLA chief of staff Agim Ceku, for carrying guns illegally or without required documentation.

Some provisional mayors appointed by the KLA have been fired by UN-appointed mayors, and the UN has put a few hundred international police officers, mostly borrowed temporarily from Bosnia, onto the streets of Pristina, with more permanent police to follow.

As important, the UN administrators have begun to pay city workers, including judges, nearly all of whom have not had any salary since February or March. This week, in a display that should have an impact among ordinary Albanians, the UN intends to pull up to Pristina Hospital with a truck full of money and cashiers, protected by KFOR troops, and start paying doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

"Our mission is to get some stable measures of self-government here to deliver services, in a preferably democratic and prayerfully multiethnic way,'' said a senior UN official. "People need to see their government working.''

That many Serbs would flee Kosovo was inevitable after such a bitter, personal and nasty conflict, which really began early in 1998. But officials now admit that KFOR's main concern was to protect its soldiers and the returning Albanians from the Serbs, and that little thought was given to the protection of innocent Serbs or Gypsies from revenge or even the quick arrest and punishment of guilty Serbs.

"To really protect Kosovo as a multiethnic state - in other words, to provide security for the Serbs who wanted to stay - would have meant rapid ghettoization behind protected lines,'' a senior official said. "No one was prepared to do that.''

But with an apparently organized campaign by the Kosovo Liberation Army to drive Serbs out of Kosovo, a pattern of protected enclaves, like in Orahovac, Kosovska Mitrovica and Gracanica, has become KFOR's only answer. But the troops appear to have a new determination, as evidenced by the stiff French response to Albanian demonstrations, organized over the weekend by local KLA leaders, against Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica.

The struggle to tame and co-opt the Kosovo Liberation Army, which moved quickly to seize municipal buildings and set up provisional authorities, however weak, is intensifying. While Kouchner does not recognize the so-called provisional government led by KLA political leader Hashim Thaci, 29, he needs Thaci's support, or at least his forbearance.

But international officials are disturbed by the KLA's attempts to drive out the remaining Serbs; attack and harass KFOR troops, especially the Russians, who are perceived as Serbian allies; seize property, businesses and impose taxes; intimidate other Albanian politicians, especially those belonging to the Democratic League of Kosovo, the party of Ibrahim Rugova, the pacifist whom Thaci is trying to supplant as Kosovo's leader apparent.

While Thaci is quick to say the right words in public when pressed, numerous senior UN officials believe that the words are too often hollow. And many of them resent the prominence given to Thaci by U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration, especially Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her close aide and spokesman, James Rubin, who has taken on Thaci as a sort of project.

They also resent the American decision to write a loose paragraph into a demilitarization agreement with Thaci that promises the creation in Kosovo, sometime, of a form of "national guard.''

"That would be a really, really long way away,'' one official said. "The KLA has got to transform itself or atomize.''

But Thaci does not control the entire KLA, the same officials acknowledge, and certainly not its chief of staff, Agim Ceku, who is trying to preserve the status of the KLA as a military entity despite KFOR's insistence that the KLA completely demilitarize by Sept. 19.