Annan scolds U.N. officials in Kosovo

Leader says agents don't do enough for anxious Serbs

October 15, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- On his first visit to Kosovo, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told senior U.N. officials that they were doing too little to reassure anxious Serbs, and he rejected appeals that the province be helped to emerge as an independent state.

"We are not here to prepare the people for independence. That is not my mandate," Annan said yesterday at the end of a two-day visit. "A multiethnic Kosovo is our mandate."

A multiethnic Kosovo is becoming increasingly unlikely, however.

With the ethnic Albanian majority waging an increasingly ugly campaign of terror against Serbs and other minorities, fewer than 50,000 Serbs are believed to remain.

A year ago, there were 200,000.

In recent weeks, ethnic Albanians who consort with Serbs have been targets of violence.

Monday, a newly arrived United Nations employee was shot to death on the main street of Pristina by a band of Albanian youths who heard him speaking Serbian.

Annan condemned the wave of violence, saying, "We have to counter that by encouraging tolerance. We need to create an environment where some of the Serbs will come back."

To that end, he spoke privately with U.N. mission chief Bernard Kouchner, who governs Kosovo in the absence of a democratically elected leadership.

In an often tense meeting, Annan criticized Kouchner for doing too little to keep Serbs involved in the governance of Kosovo.

He also warned Kouchner to stop taking actions that undercut Yugoslav sovereignty, according to a U.N. official.

Since arriving in the province, Kouchner has taken several controversial actions, including replacing the Yugoslav dinar with the German mark as Kosovo's official currency.

He has posted U.N. customs officials on Kosovo's borders with Macedonia and Albania, and spoken publicly about issuing Kosovo passports.

Belgrade repeatedly has accused the United Nations and NATO of failing to protect the Serbian minority. Serb officials are furious with the United Nations for undermining their legal authority in Kosovo.

This month, Kosovo Serbian leaders stopped attending meetings of the Kosovo Transitional Council, saying the United Nations is making too many concessions to Albanians pressing for full independence from Yugoslavia.

Pub Date: 10/15/99

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