BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- When Yugoslavia's military leaders report to the Macedonian border area today for talks on implementing the Kosovo peace plan, they'll be meeting a hard-nosed, gravel-voiced British officer known among his troops as "the Prince of Darkness."
Lt.-Gen. Sir Michael Jackson is the man charged with setting in motion a peacekeeping mission fraught with danger, as Serbian forces prepare to leave their beleaguered province.
Jackson, who is said to enjoy whiskey and cigars while he runs a stern command, has long been the front-runner to command the NATO force in Kosovo, which will be known as KFOR.
Jackson, 55, knows the perilous Balkan terrain, and he has plenty of experience in trying to smooth over relations among once-warring communities: He was commander of the United Nations implementation force in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1995 and 1996.
Now he's commander of NATO's Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, a force of 15,000 based in Macedonia. His troops were prepared for such contingencies as quickly extracting civilian observers and humanitarian workers or leading a potential ground invasion.
In the past few months his troops have arranged humanitarian relief for tens of thousands of refugees who fled across the Kosovo border to Macedonia. While at the helm of the high-profile force, Jackson emerged as a celebrity in the British press, which nicknamed him "Macho Jacko" and `Britain's toughest-looking soldier," two titles he apparently loathes.
He did talk tough, though.
Last month, he made it clear in interviews that he needed to know within weeks if he was to prepare for a ground war, or to begin making arrangements to house refugees through the winter.
Now, Jackson and his troops are poised for the task of entering Kosovo as peacekeepers who will help refugees return to their shattered homes and villages.
Raised in a service family, Jackson joined the army at 19 and learned Russian, a skill that could come in handy in coming months, with Russian troops due to enter Kosovo.
The soldier who lists the Duke of Wellington -- victor of the Battle of Waterloo -- as his military hero, has commanded a division, been an officer in Britain's crack Parachute Regiment, served in Northern Ireland and Berlin, and worked two years at Britain's Ministry of Defense.
Pub Date: 6/05/99