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Kosovo rising fast from ashes

In one town, KLA quickly organizes city services, even before delivery

By Jonathan S. LandayStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 1999


With the flick of his pen, Maslon Kumanova, the head of Djakovica's provisional government, signs documents with the ease of a veteran bureaucrat.

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In a scene no different from town halls much the world over, residents of this Kosovo town wait outside Mr. Kumanova's door to see him, and file-toting workers bustle about dingy halls in the gray municipal building.

But few mayors face Kumanova's challenges. His town is in ruins, most of its homes, shops, and factories looted and burned, many of its citizens killed or abducted in the Serbian onslaught against ethnic Albanians.

Yet in the nine days since it was installed by the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), his administration has moved rapidly toward recovery, restoring services like telephones and streetlights. In fact, with its multiparty composition and reconstruction plans, it might become a model for Kosovo.

"With the work that they are doing, in a month they will be like New York," Carlos Ugart of Doctors Without Borders, the first humanitarian group to begin working in Djakovica, says half in jest. "Since we arrived, the city has completely changed."

Djakovica - Gjakova in Albanian - is a microcosm of the immense problems facing the whole of Kosovo, where reconstruction is expected to cost at least $1.03 billion over three years. "Everything was destroyed," Kumanova says of his town. "We are starting from scratch."

Kumanova's provisional government, which runs not just the city but also a county of the same name, estimates 60 percent of all ethnic Albanian properties have been destroyed. This has left it little choice but to allow returning refugees to use homes abandoned by the area's entire Serbian population of 3,100.

But with a prewar population of 112,000 ethnic Albanians - some 25,000 stayed throughout the conflict - sheltering everyone will be impossible without foreign aid. "I came to see the mayor because my house is burned," says Morteza Godeni, who stands outside Kumanova's office. "I hope he will help us fix all the damage."

While some shops are open and peasants are selling produce, few residents can afford to buy food. Humanitarian aid is still in short supply.

Another major problem is citizens' demands for an accounting of missing residents, especially an estimated 1,200 men believed to have been taken to jails in Serbia. The Serbs also allegedly executed more than 100 people in the town and hundreds of others in surrounding villages.

There are some concerns, furthermore, that KLA-installed administrations such as that in Djakovica will monopolize power after the rebels shed their arms under the accord with NATO.

Yet despite its burdens, Djakovica's provisional government has achieved amazing progress during its short existence.

It has restored regular electricity, telephone service, and street lighting, and is about to begin producing free bread. The local radio is broadcasting in Albanian for the first time in 10 years. Within days, the government will restart vehicle inspections and begin issuing new license plates to bring order to growing vehicular chaos from returning refugees whose documents were confiscated by Serbian police.