Nato helps out as Kosovo ditches the Deutschmark

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The Independent Online

Few of the soldiers dispatched to oversee the peace in Kosovo would have envisaged spending New Year's Eve preaching the benefits of the European single currency.

But members of the Nato-led Kosovo force (K-For) have been pressed into service to spread the word to residents in the farthest flung areas of Kosovo, which is under UN control though officially still a province of Yugoslavia.

As the Yugoslav dinar soared out of control in 1999, the UN declared the Deutschmark the official currency. So when the mark is pensioned off in Germany today, it faces the same fate in Kosovo.

But unlike residents in Germany, the ethnic Albanians and Serbs of Kosovo have not had the benefit of glossy information packs and most have only a hazy understanding of what the changeover entails.

With the deadline looming, American, British, French and German soldiers have been sent out to inform people about the euro. Defying the cold, US troops of the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, Fort Bragg, have lugged euro pamphlets, euro calendars and wallet-size converters to Kosovo's remote villages.

In a cash-based society, part of the campaign is to encourage residents to deposit money long hidden away. Some 100,000 bank accounts have been opened in the past month alone.

Shaban Bajrami, 28, who has a jewellery shop, had buried his life savings, but now plans to open a euro account. "Finally I have the feeling that we are part of Europe," he said.

However, diplomats are worried that the adoption of the euro will exacerbate tensions with Belgrade. That is also a risk in Montenegro, whose government uses the Deutschmark as its official currency.

Critics complain that the Balkan members will enjoy all the benefits of a strong currency without having to meet the convergence criteria met by eurozone members.