The UN has sent the wrong man to Kosovo

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
LEANING ON his shiny 7 Series BMW in his beige linen suit and Ray-Ban sunglasses, a mobile phone nestling in his gold-braceleted hand, Murad Hasani blended smoothly into the new Pristina. So did his companion, dressed entirely in black , down to the butt of his holstered pistol.

Murad is an Albanian from Tirana, where he makes a very good living with a part-share in one of the highly lucrative smuggling runs from Durres. He was in Kosovo to lend his expertise to the culture of freewheeling private enterprise that had come with liberation. The man he was talking to, Fadil, is a member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and supposedly close to its chief of staff, Agim Ceku. He had just finished collecting "taxes" from traders in one of the markets on behalf of the KLA.

Pristina, the Kosovar capital, is reborn, louder and brasher than ever before, awash with Deutschmarks and personnel from the United Nations and other international organisations. It is a place where the right price will get you almost anything. To put things into context, this was a city which just five weeks ago had no water, no shops open, and gave little sign of getting over the traumas from ferocious Serbian repression.

A couple of miles away from the bright lights of downtown, a patrol of British Army Paras were seeing another face of the new order in Kosovo, confronting an aggressive crowd of young men claiming to be KLA soldiers, at a Serbian residential area near the university. The stand-off ended with a swift charge and disarming of five of the Albanians by the Paras. "They will be back, they always are," said the Para sergeant. "Six months from now we will be at war with the KLA. It will be just like Northern Ireland, you go in to protect a people and end up by fighting them."

Most of Nato's current roles should by now have been undertaken by the United Nations mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) which is supposed to provide the administration and the infrastructure for a civic society in the province. But it has failed to do so.

Its staff seem to spend most of their time trying to secure the best accommodation and offices, and hiring locals as clerks and interpreters at salaries which have led to resentment from those not benefiting from the largesse while suffering from the price rises resulting from the influx of foreign money. All this may be inevitable but what many among the military, foreign diplomats and civilian population cannot understand is the inertia in actually doing the job which has accompanied this.

The blame for this is often put at the door of the man appointed by Kofi Annan to be the civil administrator of Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, the French Health Minister, who had made his name out of flamboyant and often effective action and self-publicity ever since he founded Medecins Sans Frontieres.

In Pristina, however, being the proconsul has somewhat gone to his head, according to some of his staff. One senior UN official described M Kouchner's office as like being present at a perpetual royal audience, with the courtiers, a varied bunch of European visitors, among them a large French contingent, trooping in and out. Most vaguely describe themselves as journalists.

M Kouchner's appointment to the post did not have the unanimous backing of Western governments. Tony Blair lobbied hard for Paddy Ashdown, a man who knows the Balkans and has visited the region regularly. There was also strong pressure to give the job to the Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari who had brokered the Kosovo peace deal, and there were also pitches for Italy's acting European Commissioner Emma Bonino and Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister. At the end it boiled down to a two-horse contest between Mr Ashdown and Mr Koushner, and Mr Ashdown lost out because there was already a Briton, Lt Gen Sir Mike Jackson, as the Nato commander in Kosovo.

The French accused London of being too greedy. Mr Ashdown, on a recent trip to Kosovo, declared some parts of the UN structure there to be "disastrously weak", to which Mr Kouchner could say "he would say that wouldn't he". But there are others, and a growing number of doubters, beside the former Liberal Democrat leader. US officials have been increasingly vociferous about his slowness and, most worrying for Mr Kouchner, some of the most biting criticism comes from his own UN staff.

While the UN and Western governments bicker and dither, the KLA has set up its own government under its leader Hashim Thaci. Unlike the UN, their offices hum with activity. Ministries have been formed, orders given out and carried out. Efficiently and ruthlessly, the KLA goes about its business of taking over towns and cities, collecting taxes, appointing officials to state enterprises and allocating seized Serbian (and sometimes Albanian) homes and businesses to their supporters. They also control the petrol stations thus giving themselves enormous leverage in a land with acute fuel shortage.

The KLA's political opponents complain of mounting intimidation. Parliamentary elections are due to be held sometime in the future, but Mr Kouchner cannot say when. Baton Haxhiu, editor of the Albanian-language newspaper Koha Ditore sums up the mood: "The only political group that has any structure is the KLA. It is using it to take power, backed eventually by a police and national guard it alone will control ... each day it is becoming dangerous to think and speak independently."