Documents still being destroyed: Liberation of Kosovo

Public Records
KOSOVO'S FORMER Serbian governor is reported to be shipping out and destroying documents, in a move that threatens hundreds of thousands of refugees' plans to reclaim their property and rebuild their lives.

On Monday a member of the UN mission in Kosovo, whose task is to oversee all civilian aspects of life in the province, saw workers shredding documents in the Pristina administration building still run by Zoran Andjelkovic, leader of the temporary executive council of Kosovo and Metohija (the Serbian name for the province).

The UN has still not yet secured buildings in Pristina housing public records - birth, death and marriage certificates, property deeds, nationality papers and the like - which in Kosovo carry a significant political weight. Yesterday morning, a large lorry marked Yugoslavia Speditiones Nis was parked up against a wall of the building, ready for loading. Asked what the workers were doing, one replied: "We are just removing material, paper material."

UN officials in Pristina and New York are concerned about K-For's delay in securing public buildings. "The question is, what has been destroyed in the past 48 hours? What has been lost already?" asked one member of the UN mission.

Some officials have argued against confronting Mr Andjelkovic for fear of antagonising the Serbian administration.

This attitude worries veterans of the UN's Bosnian operation, where the UN mission frequently deferred to the Serbs, only prolonging and worsening the inevitable conflict between Belgrade and the Western powers. One UN official said yesterday that "concern was expressed" to Mr Andjelkovic. But given the Serbian authorities' track record in Kosovo, stronger action may be required to secure the archives.

Mr Andjelkovic yesterday denied that his staff were destroying papers. "No, all documents are preserved," he said. "We did not let Bosnia and Croatia be repeated, to burn the documents proving the Serbian population existed here."

In the administration building a new "information centre" has been set up, staffed by men in red boiler suits marked "Centre for Peace and Tolerance", a Belgrade-based organisation completely unknown until now. The job now is to record Serbian complaints of crime and intimidation and pass them to K-For.

Mr Andjelkovic, who works below a large photograph of President Slobodan Milosevic, was in unusually conciliatory mood yesterday. He warned of Albanian "criminal gangs" but said he was prepared to surrender his office (decorated with two large Yugoslav and Serbian flags) to the head of the temporary UN administration.

The UN mission in Kosovo faces a Herculean task in building a fair and legitimate administration in a very short time. "You cannot parachute in a bureaucracy and management in the way that you can parachute in troops," said Kevin Kennedy, a UN spokesman.