The Job Ahead in Kosovo

The NATO-led peacekeepers taking their positions in Kosovo have two major tasks. First and most immediate, to make possible the return of more than 800,000 refugees. Second, to create a period of stability out of which a long-term system of government can emerge.

The refugee return will repopulate Kosovo, which has been emptied of its Albanian majority by furious ethnic cleansing. This is not a matter of just letting people flow back in, however. Mine fields must be cleared; food must be stockpiled; building supplies must be brought in so that families whose houses were destroyed or damaged can rebuild.

But the rebuilding that ultimately matters most is the construction of a civil society. The presence of the peacekeepers should secure the real estate. Scattered incidents of sniping and other violence show how difficult this could be, but if the forces do their job well, the potential for fresh outbreaks of violence will be minimized.

A key part of that job, as NATO officers realize, is vigilant even-handedness. Serb civilians who choose to remain in Kosovo must be assured of protection. Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army must be redirected. They have to be convinced to put away their guns and join the rebuilding.

Hatred, fear, and revenge are the most insidious enemies in Kosovo. They have to be given sparse room for expression.

Planning and implementing civil reconstruction will be in the hands of an administrator appointed by the United Nations. That work will require energy and patience. Governing bodies will have to be formed, a legal system established, education, health, and other services restarted. Down the line, an election will be held. Though the province remains formally part of Serbia, there will be intense pressure for independence.

The unanswered questions, of course, are legion. How long will international forces be needed? Will Russia help or hinder the rebuilding process? What's Milosevic's next move? Will the Kosovo war set a pattern for international intervention?

More on these tomorrow.

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