Peace In The Balkans: Half of all homes need replacing

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The Independent Online
THE WESTERN powers are facing a bill for the long-term reconstruction of Kosovo that is likely to equal if not exceed the $5.1bn (pounds 3.2bn) already spent on rebuilding Bosnia.

The bombing campaign has destroyed roads, bridges and government buildings and the Serb ethnic cleansing has left entire Albanian towns gutted and ruined. In a first memorandum on what it expects to face in Kosovo, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates 50 per cent of all homes in the province have been destroyed or damaged. The agency has already begun buying the home-repair materials and the 15,000 winter-proof tents it will need.

The World Bank has also launched a website containing information on the rebuilding of the stricken region. Eventually, the website will include details of the construction projects and commercial opportunities open to firms in the UK and elsewhere.

The Department of Trade and Industry is expected to launch an industry- government task force on Kosovo in the next few days chaired by a senior businessman. But there are already fears that companies may miss out on the lion's share of the work since the bulk of contracts for rebuilding Bosnia have gone to American and European companies.

The European Union - working with the World Bank - is expected to announce plans for an international donors' conference. Most of the burden of what will amount to a virtual Marshall Plan for Kosovo is likely to fall on European nations with the US administration providing scant funds.

Meanwhile, agencies of the United Nations are scrambling to gather equipment and emergency provisions for the 400,000 Kosovo refugees who are expected to return to their homeland in the next three weeks. That effort will be spearheaded by its refugee agency. An additional 400,000 displaced Kosovars are likely to return in the months after that.

Items on what is already a very long UNHCR shopping list range from building supplies for the repair of damaged homes, including plastic sheeting, door and window frames and timber, to blankets, medical supplies, school kits for children, ration cards, temporary identification papers and food.

Overall responsibility for civil reconstruction will rest with the UN and its soon-to-be-appointed administrator in Kosovo. The task of economic reconstruction, involving everything from rebuilding roads and repairing water supplies to helping to re-ignite the Kosovo economy, will fall mainly to the EU and the World Bank.

But Andrew Rogerson of the World Bank said: "None of the figures being bandied around for the cost of this can have any basis in scientific accuracy for the simple reason that nobody has done a damage assessment yet."

Engineers say that although the rebuilding task would be huge, the extent of the damage and the problematic nature of the rebuilding work meant it unlikely that firms would be making massive profits.

The political atmosphere in Washington suggests that little money will be forthcoming from the US government. "I feel very strongly, and I think most senators feel very strongly, that the overwhelming bulk of whatever rebuilding is done in Kosovo should be done by the Europeans," Senate Republican leader Trent Lott said on Wednesday. "We carried the load in the bombing ... we've been spending $100m a day."

Nobody, meanwhile, is underestimating how long the rebuilding process will take. US Ambassador Jacques Klein, who is a possible candidate for the UN administrator job, said that in Bosnia it will "probably be a generation" before the international presence there can be disbanded.

Meanwhile, the US Defence Secretary, William Cohen, said yesterday that Nato attacks had destroyed 80 per cent of Yugoslavia's air power, two- thirds of its ammunition production capacity, all its fuel refining capacity, 40 per cent of military fuel supplies, 50 per cent of artillery and one- third of its armoured vehicles. Nato, in contrast, lost only two planes, out of 535 that had taken part in the operation. Nato's use of precision guidance systems, he said, had kept civilian casualties `very low'. Of 23,000 bombs and missiles launched, only 20 had gone astray.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US armed forces, Hugh Shelton, said sophisticated technology allowed Nato to destroy more than 70 per cent of power capacity in Serbia, while leaving power generation in Kosovo mostly intact.