As UN delays, the KLA starts its own government

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The Independent Online
FOR TWO months last summer, before it fell to Serb forces, Malisevo was the pride of Kosovo Albanians - an oasis controlled entirely by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Malisevo served as a mini-experiment in what life without the Serb forces might be like: KLA soldiers ran a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the town, posted a sign saying "Liberated Territory of Kosovo", dispatched uniformed KLA civilian police to direct traffic in the town centre, and held press conferences.

While Serb forces pounded away at other parts of the province, children in Malisevo swam in a pool next to the town mosque, enjoying a bit of summer normality.

Now, all of Kosovo is living the reality that the KLA in Malisevo dreamt last year: that they would finally be free to run their own territory, post their own signs, make laws and police the streets. Or almost. A small shadow remains: a UN Security Council resolution that designates the UN interim mission in Kosovo as the only legitimate government.

But the KLA-led Provisional Government of Kosovo, headed by the KLA political leader Hashim Thaci, is already exploiting the UN's delay in recruiting some 2,000 international officials to administer the province. The Thaci-led provisional government has gone ahead to appoint local governments for all of Kosovo's 28 municipal "communes". Malisevo has been put under the leadership of Gani Krasniqi, an economist who joined the KLA last summer.

Mr Krasniqi works from a cement public administration building in Malisevo that flies the red and black Albanian flag. Kosovars mill around the front steps, seeking help from the local authorities in solving their many problems: missing family and friends, contaminated water wells, destroyed property, money owed, lack of jobs. Some 45 villages, and 60,000 people, are included in the Malisevo municipal bounds, which was one of the areas hardest hit by the past year and a half of conflict.

To date, no United Nations representative has found his way to the Malisevo city hall to inform Gani Krasniqi that his local government may be illegitimate.

An afternoon in Malisevo suggests that Bernard Kouchner, the former French health minister who is now the UN's top administrator in Kosovo, could do worse than work with Mr Krasniqi in administering the town.

Water is probably the most pressing problem in Malisevo, Mr Krasniqi says. He goes to fetch a three-ring-binder from an office bookshelf. It contains the plans for a water project for the region. "This is the driest area of Kosovo. The centre of Malisevo does not have running water," he explains. "Before the war, we had a referendum, and then collected money from local people to make a water system for Malisevo and eight nearby villages, that would have capacity for six litres per second." Mr Krasniqi describes the detail of the project: the water source, the pipes, the costs. He strikes one as the ideal civil servant, patient, committed, detail-oriented, helpful.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat who served as interim UN administrator for Kosovo, told a press conference last week in New York that his successor, Mr Kouchner, would be willing to work with KLA- appointed civil authorities if they "carry out their functions democratically and inclusively". If not, he warned, they would be removed by K-For.

Jakup Krasniqi, (no close relation to Gani Krasniqi), a Thaci aide serving as minister for reconstruction and development in the provisional government, lambasted the UN last week, for what he says is its unwillingness to co- operate with Mr Thaci's provisional government.

"Who gave the UN the authority to claim they are the only legitimate government of Kosovo?" Mr Krasniqi asked in an interview. When told it was the UN Security Council, he replied: "Who gave their blood for Kosovo?"

The appointment of local governments by Mr Thaci and the top KLA leadership is clearly part of a strategy to translate the popular post-war appeal of the KLA into future political power. The local KLA-appointed governments will help "get out the vote".

Already the season of immediate postwar humanitarian concern is shifting to one of politics and pre-election strategy.

In an interview this week, Mr Thaci said he intended soon to announce the formation of a new political party that would "represent the interests of the KLA".