Our duty to keep anarchy at bay

The West must ensure that the province is not taken over by criminal gangs

THE TERRIBLE events of Friday evening outside the village of Gracko are a terrifying warning of the dangers that are threatening to overwhelm Kosovo.

There is a race there now between order and disorder - and disorder has a head start. We should have got the civil administration in far more quickly. A vacuum has been left, and into it all sorts of forces are now moving - most unhelpful, some downright sinister.

There is danger of a deep and virulent infection of lawlessness and criminality from across the porous border with the badlands of northern Albania. The KLA is establishing its own law and redistributing property where there is no sufficiently powerful force to resist it.

Revenge, political intimidation and terrorism are taking an ever-tighter hold on the structures of ordinary life.

And yet, if the spread of lawlessness can only be quelled, the signs are that Kosovo is returning to some semblance of normality far faster than any of us could have dared hope.

There is much to cheer about in Kosovo. In Pristina, the street markets have reappeared, bright with peppers and fresh fruit. The cafes are full. The pavements throng with one of Europe's youngest populations. Only the blackened presence of the police headquarters, its top storey neatly decapitated by a cruise missile, and the occasional glimpse of the red berets of the Para patrols, as they move among the crowds, serve as a reminder that this is a normality most believed could not come so quickly - and some believed would never come at all.

A Pristina friend, who stayed hidden in the city through the war, told me that he still couldn't believe the nightmare was over and woke up every morning testing reality to make sure it was still there.

Out in the Kosovo countryside the story is, if anything, even more remarkable. This peasant population, over whom history has marched invading armies backwards and forwards down the centuries, has quietly gone home and started to rebuild its houses and tend its fields.

A UN official said to me, in rather miffed tones, that the whole lot had simply upped sticks, quietly and politely left the refugee camps and gone home without any help from him - it was all very odd, he complained.

And now, uninstructed by any aid worker, the least damaged rooms within burnt-out shells of houses are being carefully prepared for the family against the coming winter. The crops are being brought in - albeit accompanied by a grisly harvest of mutilations from mines and Nato's unexploded ordnance (far, far too much of it). This tragic new product of Kosovo's fields arrives daily at military field hospitals where surgeons, trained for war, are tending to the chief casualties of this one - children and farmers with limbs blown away by the mines and unexploded bombs, waiting patiently for their targets in the woods and meadows.

Mostly, as in Gracko before the massacre, the sound of the Kosovo countryside is no longer the tumult of war, but scythe and tractor and combine harvester and the ring of hammer on wood as the roofs go back.

There is a sizeable humanitarian challenge ahead. The winter will not be easy. But, immensely self-reliant as these people are, given the means to help themselves, Kosovo will probably see itself through this winter better than it did the last.

The crisis in Kosovo is administrative. Every non-governmental organisation in the world, seeking to justify its domestic funding for the next year, is following the headlines into the province. There is duplication, inefficiency, inexperience, downright stupidity and international turf wars, all in a mad scramble to be seen to be doing something.

Far too much of the assistance going into Kosovo is at best unhelpful and at worst downright damaging. There is talk of food aid in massive quantities: if it comes, it will kill the markets which have sprung back so quickly in every little Kosovan town.

Most worrying of all is the lack of law and order. The international community promised 3,000 police officers to get the Kosovan police force established. A mere handful have so far arrived, while the grip of the criminal gangs gets stronger and stronger. Of the desperately needed remainder there is no sign.

There is a whole country to be created - water to be reconnected, power stations restarted, banks set up, a treasury established, a tax and excise structure implemented. Judges, prisons, voting rights and registers: you name it, the new UN government in Kosovo has to do it, and very fast if order is to win over disorder.

The military has held the ring while the civil administration was, too slowly, assembled. Nato General Sir Mike Jackson's war is now about to become UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner's peace.

Mr Kouchner has to manage something of a multi-headed monster. Of the four pillars set up to rebuild Kosovo's civil society - political, humanitarian, financial and civic, two UN and one each to the EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Mr Kouchner needs to establish a properly co-ordinated administration working clearly and exclusively through him and to persuade the UN to break the habit of a lifetime and let him take quick decisions.

If Mr Kouchner is to succeed, the international community will have to honour its promises when Kosovo is out of the headlines. The key leaders of the international community will have to give him the political backing he needs to take some pretty rough and ready decisions quickly - even, or perhaps especially, where these are uncomfortable ones.

The options for Kosovo are pretty stark: a role model of modern European, liberal government for the rest of the Balkans to look to, or a widening of the infection of chaos and criminality from northern Albania, with events such as Friday's becoming not the exception but the rule.

It would be ironic indeed if we expended so much to save Kosovo only to to let it slip into the grip of Albanian disorder.

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