Governor of Kosovo quits as UN begins search for successor

Fevered speculation over who will be the next governor of Kosovo enveloped the capital, Pristina, yesterday, after an official announcement that Finland's former prime minister, Harri Holkeri, is stepping down on health grounds.

Fevered speculation over who will be the next governor of Kosovo enveloped the capital, Pristina, yesterday, after an official announcement that Finland's former prime minister, Harri Holkeri, is stepping down on health grounds.

Mr Holkeri, recuperating in Finland, announced that he was leaving early on his doctor's orders and had telephoned the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday night asking to be relieved of his post.

While ill health may have been a factor behind his premature departure - he has been in the post for nine months - the ailing state of the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, is another.

Few UN bureaucrats in Pristina expected Mr Holkeri to return from hospital for long after riots rocked Kosovo in mid-March, bringing a torrent of criticism of the UN mission.

In a two-day orgy of violence, unemployed youths, rural students, hard-line nationalists and ex-war veterans attacked Serb enclaves, burning churches and driving several thousand Serbs from their homes.

The chaos discredited the UN and saw Mr Holkeri at his weakest. After first dismissing the violence as insignificant, he dramatically changed his tune, categorising the attacks as "crimes against humanity".

The clumsy U-turn confirmed opinions of Mr Holkeri as out-of-touch and easily wrong-footed by events. One high-ranking UN official was scathing in his assessment of his boss, privately describing him as incompetent and largely uninterested. "He never read his briefs properly - just the bullet points," he said.

"We desperately need a Chris Patten, or a [Lord] Robertson. We cannot go on with people of this calibre".

The cri de coeur from inside the organisation is understandable. After a flying start during the first year of Nato's stewardship of the Serbian province, from which Serbia withdrew forces in June 1999, the UN mission has lost its way under a succession of uninspiring - or arrogant - leaders.

Whereas Bernard Kouchner of France was seen as too lenient towards acts of Albanian revenge against Kosovo's small Serb minority, his successor, Hans Haekkerup of Denmark, was seen as anti-Albanian.

Mr Haekkerup's successor, Michael Steiner of Germany, was disliked by almost everybody for his autocratic style.

Mr Holkeri tried to make a virtue of his inexperience on his arrival in August, saying: "My advantage over others is that I have never been to Kosovo."

But under his short term in office, the economy continued to go downhill, partly due to a botched privatisation plan. Public utilities remain chaotic, with frequent water and power cuts. Meanwhile political talks on Kosovo's final status have got nowhere, though Belgrade has sensed Pristina's weaknessin demanding a say in affairs.

UN insiders say that when choosing the new boss, there will be less tolerance of inexperience. They want an expert on the region who can expect respect from both Serbs and Albanians with a preference for someone from an EU state. "We would prefer a Brit," one UN insider confided.

Marcus Tanner is Balkans editor for IWPR

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