Persevering in Kosovo

Turmoil in the divided city of Mitrovica underscores the dilemma facing international peacekeepers and would-be civil administrators in Kosovo. If a self-governing, multiethnic entity remains the goal of intervention there, the means of reaching it have to be strengthened.

This requires, above all, developing the civilian structures that can move Kosovo toward stability. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was conceived for just this purpose, but its progress has been slow.

UNMIK's centerpiece was to be an international police corps that would establish civil order and train Kosovars to eventually take over the law-and-order duties. Plans called for 6,000 police under UNMIK. A mere 1,400 are in place. The Europeans, in particular, have to boost their participation. American help is critical, but the prime responsibility is Europe's. The same reasoning applies to enlarging the troop presence in Mitrovica, as requested by NATO's commander.

It's not that aid is lacking. Some $456 million will be spent during UNMIK's first year, and more than 280 nongovernmental organizations are on the job in Kosovo as well. What seems to be lacking is the ability to mobilize Kosovars themselves to concentrate on building a new society.

That ability can't come through international help alone. Too many among the majority Albanians remain consumed by revenge. The minority Serbs are gripped by fear and clustered into enclaves. Their fears and nationalistic hopes are fed, as ever, by the leadership in Belgrade.

Kosovo is turning out to be just as thorny as anticipated. Pressure could mount to reject the multiethnic model and go for partition, with already divided Mitrovica as the starting point.

That would be a mistake. Resentments would build, fueling future conflict. The Western allies should stick to the original goal, beef up efforts to build a civil society, and recognize this will be a very long commitment.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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