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Vol 2, No 23
12 June 2000
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Photo credit: CD Photo A Year
of Failure

KFOR and UNMIK's unsuccessful missions in Kosovo
Borce Gjorgjievski

A year into its mission in Kosovo and hundreds of millions of dollars later, no one really seems happy with the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) or the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) that is supposed to impose the peace - with just reason.

Amnesty International has accused NATO of war crimes; refugee returns have slowed to a trickle, and almost none of those going home are Serbs; the justice system in Kosovo continues to flounder; violence is a daily occurrence, to which the specter of partition is added in Mitrovica; the province's infrastructure is still in tatters; unemployment is rampant and social support services non-existent; and Kosovo continues to be a domestic rallying point for the Milošević regime.

KFOR and UNMIK authorities can only shake their heads and wonder how the hell they got involved in the whole mess in the first place.

Initial goals

A year after the US-led bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, none of the goals that were presented as justification for the act are even close to fulfilled. That much was evident at the time the campaign came to a close, for while everyone was shaking hands and shouting "Victory!" in Kosovo, Milošević was holding in power stronger than ever, NATO bombing having just served as proof of his long advocated theory that the West wants to destroy Serbia.

Photo credit: CD PhotoBut what were NATO's early goals in Kosovo? The allied forces wanted peace and quiet, that much was certain. Orderly returns of Kosovar refugees, withdrawal of Serbian forces, disarmament of the Kosova Liberation Army (UÇK) also factored in the plans, but NATO's goals essentially ended there, as its top generals again reminded the world that the UN would have to look after policing, war crimes prosecutions, social services, infrastructure reconstruction, transition to democracy and the like.

With the exception of returned Kosovar refugees - which owed more to the Kosovar Albanians themselves than it did to anything NATO or the UN did - few of these goals or their implied sub-components have been accomplished.

Today, Kosovo is a pitiful sight. None of the great words that Western leaders liked to emphasize so much - "multi-ethnicity," "fast-recovery," "modern society" - have any factual meaning.

Ethnic cleansing - in reverse

Ethnic cleansing is still present on Kosovo, it is just that the oppressors have switched with the victims, as Albanian extremists now terrorize the few non-Albanians left on Kosovo.

Although most of the 850,000 ethnic Albanians displaced outside Kosovo during the bombing campaign have returned home, the new victors forced out more than 200,000 non-Albanians, by UNHCR estimates, during the first three months of their rule.

Early on, Veton Surroi, the editor of the influential Koha Ditore and a political activist, appealed to his people at home and on the world stage to not visit the same crimes on Kosovo's Serbs as Milošević's police and army had visited on them. His appeals fell on the deaf ears of still-armed UÇK extremists - and the wholesale exodus of Serbs, Montenegrins and Roma was the result, as pitiful caravans of civilians poured into Serbia, Montenegro and, in the case of several thousand Roma, into Macedonia, where they remain today.

A multi-ethnic Kosovo

Serbs today are isolated to several villages and the northern part of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica (Mitrovicë), and some are so afraid for their lives that KFOR troops have to go and buy groceries for them. Although peace-loving people on both sides of the ethnic divide are trying to find a compromise and go on with their lives, "bad blood" and extremists in both the Serbian and Albanian camps are deaf to cries for reconciliation.

Even moderates like Surroi are increasingly forced to admit that a multi-ethnic Kosovo is little more than a pipe dream.

Unfortunately, the future doesn't seem very bright. The NATO allies are painfully realizing that the Albanians of Kosovo never wanted anything less than full independence and will not rest until they get it, one way or another - that, and not multiethnicity, is their over-riding political goal.

As a result, the very notion of multi-ethnic harmony is being more ridiculous with every new murder targeting not only the province's few remaining non-Albanians, but also of Albanians deemed "treacherous" by local war chiefs.

The specter of partition

Mitrovica is only the most visible and high-stakes reminder that all sides are not yet finished with Kosovo, and raises serious concerns about the UN and NATO's ability to govern the province.

Photo credit: CD PhotoAlthough there are some 50,000 Serbs in the greater Mitrovica area, Albanians inhabit the area south of the river, while Serbs cling doggedly to the north and the only integrated section of town is made up of a several block swath of heavily guarded apartment buildings. Daily, the two sides exchange violence or taunts of some form. In January, a Serbian bus under KFOR escort was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, while a Serbian doctor was shot dead after leaving his apartment for the first time in four months.

Throughout, Mitrovica's nearby Stari Trg mine complex, worth several billion dollars by most estimates, provides ample reminder of the motivation provided by the spoils of war. Albanian extremists want Serbs out of the Mitrovica region in order to claim the mine's riches for themselves, while Milošević's special forces are alleged to use Mitrovica as a base of operations, seeking to destabilize Kosovo and help ensure partition to secure Serb holy sites - and a share of the mines.

Meanwhile, KFOR soldiers in Mitrovica have died too, some from mines, some from snipers. The dead soldiers care little if the sniper who fired the fatal round was Albanian or Serbian - both are equally foreign.


One of the primary goals of the international community's UNMIK mission was to enforce justice and the rule of law in Kosovo.

They have failed.

More than 1000 people have been murdered since the "liberation" of Kosovo. On the streets of Priština there are no more traffic lights, but there are a lot of cars with foreign plates since no one even bothers to remove the tags from the stolen cars. Criminals frequently go un-arrested for lack of sufficient international or locally trained Kosovar police officers. At any rate, their prisons cannot hold the criminals for more than three days, since there are pitifully few judges available to pronounce sentences. Most of the judges were ethnic Serbs and, fearing reprisals, they fled Kosovo.[1]

KFOR is telling the world that they have neither the available forces nor the mandate to enforce civil and criminals laws, and UNMIK police have frequently found themselves unable to determine who is committing which crimes where: since Serb forces pulled out of Kosovo, power has, at the local level, devolved to black marketeers and former UÇK chieftains, both of which cling to their weapons. Reports of protection rackets run by former UÇK opportunists targeting Serbs and Albanians alike are rampant, and UNMIK is powerless to stamp it out.

Why? The international community has delivered barely half of the international police contingent UN Kosovo chief Bernard Kouchner has estimated are needed to restore order to the province, and the fledgling Kosovar police force is both understaffed and overwhelmingly Albanian. Of the planned 3500 officer local force, UNMIK has trained only a few hundred, and Serbs are broadly unwilling to sign up to become members of the force preferring, in those few areas where there are concentrations of Serbs, to take their security into their own hands rather than trust UNMIK or KFOR.

Then, of course, there is the question of which laws to enforce. Paralysed as it is with its refusal to take any decision that would hint at a future political course for Kosovo, Kouchner's UNMIK is running the province on the basis of a legal crazy-quilt, incorporating elements of Yugoslav, French and British legal codes and shying away from any decision as to the competencies of local or provincial administration.

Oh, and did I mention there is an odd discrepancy between the number of mass graves that were alleged before and during the bombing campaign and the number of graves that have actually been found? Or the number of missing Serbs and Albanians? If there is to be any chance for a lasting peace in Kosovo, UNMIK, KFOR and the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia alike must find concrete, final answers to the claims of Albanian war dead and must equally address the issue of Serbs and Albanians who have gone missing since the NATO protectorate was established.

Where are the mountains of gold?

Although some attempts have been made to create administrative structures and social support system, they have been largely fruitless.

Meanwhile, I will note only that the donors who promised mountains of gold during the bombing are now keeping strangely silent. The UNMIK administration cannot find money to rebuilt Kosovo's power grid or infrastructure, but oddly such finances were not lacking when the USD 20 million American military base "BondSteel" was constructed near Gnjilane (Gjilan).

Serbs still fear for their lives and many Albanians are going hungry, but the Americans have a McDonald's in one of the tents.

The lingering power of the UÇK

After a year of rule, KFOR and UNMIK have been unable to put in place any kind of government or effective local administration, since the UÇK assumed control of the province as soon as the Serbian army moved out and have hardly been willing to give it up for some international "multiethnic" dream. In the wake of violence against the Serbs of Gračanica (Gracanicë) this past week, the Serb National Council (SNC), which nominally represents the province's ethnic Serbs, was forced to protest in the only means it had available, through a boycott of the week's typically ineffective political council meetings. Local Serbs resorted to protest roadblocks.

Meanwhile, the lingering power of postwar fiefdoms eastablished by former UÇK commanders may well be legitimated by Kouchner's insistance on fall elections. In the war's aftermath, the UÇK splintered into a multitude of factions, some members forming their own political parties, others establishing the (illegal) local centres of power we have noted. In total, some 28 political parties have registered to contest the coming municipal elections.

The SNC has said it will not support fall municipal votes unless Serbs and other non-Albanians forced from the province are first allowed to return, and Vojislav Kostunica, president of the opposition Serbian Democratic Party, has recently written that these elections "can have, let us not fool ourselves, only one function - to legitimate ethnic cleansing [of Serbs]."

Demilitarization and the Spread of the KLA

These local power centers and the legitimization of ethnic cleansing are, however, a long term problem. In the short term, a more dangerous one continues to fester: the UÇK has not given up its arms. In the demilitarization process, NATO managed to confiscate only a part of the UÇK arsenal. In many cases, guerrilla bands gave up only their old, unusable weapons stolen from Albania, and a new "Liberation Army of Preševo" or "Liberation Army of Eastern Kosova" has sprung up.

With the modern weapons they have salted away and training first received in NATO camps and later their own, this "New UÇK" has started attacking the territory of Southern Serbia, proclaiming it as Eastern Kosovo by virtue of the simple fact that Albanians live there.

KFOR troops can just observe from aside - and conduct the body counts afterwards.

Why the failure?

A large part of the international community's failure can be traced to institutional politics within the international community. As bureaucrats tousle over turf and international leaders remain afraid of saying anything definitive about the future of Kosovo, the only ones making moves are extremist Kosovar Albanians - even moderate Albanians are declared traitors and silenced.

Photo credit: CD PhotoUNMIK and KFOR are supposed to work together, but Kouchner does not control the NATO-commanded KFOR, leading to mission incoherence. Disfunction within the international mission does not end with the question of civil-military relations, though, as the missions and mandates of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and UNMIK overlap considerably and are the frequent source of disputes.

Lack of political will and available funds, however, will continue to be the mission's primary Achilles heel as the UN and NATO debate mission performance one year on. The United States, for example, appears on the verge of a retreat from Kosovo, after being the foremost propagator of the intervention, and the recent vote by Congress to prolong the stay of US troops passed only 219 to 200.

None of the conclusions of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, such as the return of part of the Serbian police force to guard Serbian historical sites, have been enforced, even though it was by this resolution that KFOR troops entered Kosovo. Yet still, with the money expended and international prestige on the line in the province, it seems likely that, despite its failure, KFOR's mandate will be extended.

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Who will benefit from such an extension? Not KFOR soldiers, that is for sure, nor will the Serbs or most of the Albanians who are tired of living in constant fear. Only two parties can benefit: Milošević in Belgrade, since he will continue to have an enemy next door against whom to rail, and the "New UÇK," which will continue to destabilize the surrounding areas in order to ensure its control of Kosovo and the profitable sidelines of its present and former commanders.

If the mission is extended, only a renewed commitment to a durable peace and the reintegration of Kosovo's Serbs - with a concomitant injection of cash and Western political will - could produce the kind of results validating KFOR's and UNMIK's continued existence.

If nothing else, perhaps the Kosovo debacle will serve as a lesson to short-sighted politicians who have still not learned that, in the history of mankind, forceful interventions have never brought any kind of lasting peace, stability or justice.

Then again, maybe not.

Borce Gjorgjievski, 12 June 2000
Photo credit: CD Photo

The author:

The author has a BA in Journalism/Mass Communication and Politics/International Relations from the American University in Bulgaria, Class of 1999.

Moving on:


1. That these fears were far from unfounded are illustrated by the murder of an American citizen of Bulgarian origin, who was murdered only a couple of hours after he arrived in Priština, in the middle of the day. His only sin was that he answered in Serbian when an Albanian boy asked him the time. See the RFE December 1999 archive for more details.


Borce Gjeorgjievski
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Jindřich Ginter
Sadists at School

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The Death
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and Confusion

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Blind Date

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Mapping Lies

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Media Demythtified

Wojtek Kość
Democratic Rebellion

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