UN readies for tough role: bringing civility to Kosovo

World body met yesterday to launch plans for its broad 'civilian

After being shut out during the months of NATO bombings in Yugoslavia, the United Nations finds itself in the spotlight.

Given its unprecedented task of turning Kosovo into a protectorate, the world body will struggle to prove that it plays an indispensible role in peace.

More than 400 UN officials have entered Kosovo since June 10, when the Security Council authorized the UN to run civilian operations. And yesterday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan convened a meeting of high-level officials from 16 nations and three international organizations to hammer out a strategy for an increased presence and to make a plea for funds and personnel.

The UN has had considerable experience in picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a conflict, with Bosnia as it most recent success story.

At the same time, there have been notable disasters. In Angola, UN peacekeepers were withdrawn last March after the world body received heavy criticism for its failure to disarm the rebel forces and prevent civil war from erupting.

But Kosovo presents an entirely new and more difficult challenge for the world body. Its mandate encompasses virtually everything imaginable, from setting up a police force and judicial system to finding garbage collectors and electrical repairmen.

The UN will oversee the institution building efforts of the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as well as infrastructure reconstruction delegated to the European Union.

Washington on Tuesday said it would contribute 450 police officers, adding to the 900 pledged by 18 other nations.

But it is estimated that 3,000 civilian police would be needed in a province that has been struck by a series of revenge killings and looting. Already, more than 75,000 Serbs have fled the province in fear of returning ethnic Albanians, according to the Yugoslav Red Cross.

And that is just the beginning of the UN's problems. More than 400,000 ethnic Albanians have returned to scorched Kosovo, only to find rubble.

As expected, not all of the UN's problems are due to finances and manpower. Secretary-General Annan has yet to appoint the head of the mammoth operations. Filling this key position has been tied up by political wrangling as various nations lobby for their favorites.

France is pushing for its health minister Bernard Kouchner while Britain proposes the retiring leader of its Liberal Democrat Party, Paddy Ashdown.

IN THE meantime, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, is the acting head.

The political wrangling does not bode well for the UN, which desperately needs to increase its presence as more and more refugees return to Kosovo.

Diplomats here are all too aware that the reputation and future of world body is at stake. They realize that if peace in Kosovo fails, the UN will undoubtedly get the blame.

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