Kosovo rising fast from ashes

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

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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

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.

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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.

"After three months of terror, people still feel frustrated and unsafe. They have seen so much dark in this city," says Ardian Gjini, the deputy mayor. "Seeing there are phones, streetlights, some local news, bread - they are beginning to feel that they can live here again."

BUT the government has not stopped there. Local milk production is being reorganized as is waste collection, although these efforts are hampered by fuel shortages. Having already surveyed local factories, the government is moving to restart production in those spared from Serbian pillaging.

There are already plans for privatizing some state-owned firms, including the Emin Durako textile plant, the biggest employer until its 7,000 ethnic Albanian workers were fired in 1990.

And the manager of Electromotori, which makes electric motors, is now in Slovenia talking with the firm that owns part of the plant about restarting production.

Mr. Gjini says that with international aid, he needs only six months to rebuild Djakovica's ravaged Ottoman-era old town, a warren of homes, tiny shops, and a 500-year-old mosque that were allegedly torched and dynamited by the Serbs after NATO bombing began March 24.

The government's dynamism appears to be rooted in its composition. Moving on the heels of retreating Serbian forces, the KLA agreed the government should comprise intellectuals and technicians who belonged to Djakovica's prewar round table of ethnic Albanian political parties.

Kumanova, a former school administrator, is a member of the Democratic League of Kosovo led by Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate scorned by KLA leaders for holding talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as his forces killed and looted.

"All the people [in the provisional government] were very active in the parallel government," says Gjini, referring to the underground schools, clinics, and a human rights network run by Mr. Rugova's party.

An electrical engineer, Gjini belongs to the small Albanian National Party.

He concedes that the provisional government's responsibilities are far more weighty than those its members had previously had. Furthermore, few have had any practical experience given that all ethnic Albanian officials were ousted when Serbia imposed direct rule.

Nor has the KLA disappeared. To the contrary, its fighters can be seen everywhere in the devastated town: Many belong to a rudimentary police force that numerous residents disparage.

"This guy is only 14," growls Niazi Berisha, as a shiny-faced rebel orders sidewalk hawkers to move off the main street. "We need a real police force, but not like this."

But KLA rebels are being disarmed by Italian peacekeepers' checkpoints on the main road, and many rebels say they are anxious to return to civilian life.

Gjini says the KLA works closely with the provisional government, securing against looters in municipal buildings, factories and warehouses filled with food, clothes, and other pillaged goods the Serbs were apparently unable to cart off.

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