PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY-GENERAL'S BALKANS ENVOY
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
27 August 1999
The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Balkans Carl Bildt told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing today there were no "quick fixes" when it came to restoring peace after a prolonged conflict.
Kosovo was a subject of much attention today, he said. The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was establishing itself at a very rapid pace, in very challenging circumstances. Two developments needed to be particularly highlighted.
One was that after having established itself in Pristina, the United Nations mission was now reaching out all over Kosovo. It had been established in the five regions and aimed to establish itself in all of the 29 communities there. In the next few weeks, UNMIK would be covering the entire province of Kosovo, and that was very important.
The second development, he said, was the creation of the Kosovo Transitional Council, which had "a somewhat bumpy start". That was in no way surprising when "trying to get people who are not exactly friends to sit down together and discuss issues". However, after several attempts, there was now an agreement that the Council was to meet every Friday. The key Kosovo political leaders could be found around that table. Although it would be naive to expect them to agree immediately "on everything in sight", the fact that they were now regularly sitting down with Bernard Kouchner and addressing the issues of policy, security, education and so on, was a positive development in itself.
It was not possible to succeed in Kosovo while failing in the region, he said. That was the purpose of the Stability Pact Summit, which took place at the end of July in Sarajevo. It would take some time for that process to get going, but it was of extreme importance that it develop -- from the European Union, from the United States, from Russia and with the participation of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other organizations -- coherent policies for the region as a whole. There was much discussion regarding reconstruction and economic aid.
"In my view", he went on, "the region certainly needs reconstruction, but even more it needs profound economic and political reform". Reconstruction without reform was certainly going to fail, producing structures that were unsustainable and dependent on aid for the foreseeable future. Reforms would lead to a gradual lessening of political tension throughout the region, both inside the society and between different States. By no means was that process to be quick and easy. However, it was encouraging that there was now recognition by the leading countries of the necessity to address the needs of the region as a whole.
Asked to comment on yesterday's article in The New York Times about resettlement of Serbs in "what essentially would have to be ghettoes", Mr. Bildt said the issue in question was the "cantonization" proposal. The proposal had been introduced by Serbs during the Rambouillet negotiations. He had never been in favour of it, but he could understand why it was being discussed now. There was a very disturbing human rights situation for the minorities in Kosovo, and he was very concerned about it. However, he did not think the cantonization would prove to be a solution for that problem. In Pristina -- and the parallel could be drawn with Bosnia -- a very significant element of multi-ethnicity had not been preserved. The solution was not to establish a canton or a ghetto for the Serbs, or the Romas, or someone else.
When people were terrified, they tended to move together to places where they thought they could be better protected, either by KFOR or by the fact that they were together, he continued. That happened by itself. What the United Nations then tried to do was to improve the climate of security, so that the people could go back to their houses. Then, of course, it was important to prevent the houses from being burnt down in the process. He said that was also a well-known Balkan technique to prevent the people from coming back; there had been "a fair element of house- burning from both sides". It was impossible to sort out the human rights problems or the security situation in Kosovo by cantonization, so it was not an option.
Responding to a question about reports of corruption in Bosnia, he said that he had not read the story in The New York Times in detail. The allegation that a billion dollars had been pocketed by individuals was plainly wrong. What was not wrong was the fact that a lot of structures in Bosnia were not reformed. Those were "old regime structures", some of which were tied to different political interests. That meant that there were inefficiency, diversion of money and loss of tax and tariff revenues. It was sufficient to say that despite the $5 billion reconstruction programme, there was no self-sustaining economy in Bosnia. That was profoundly disturbing. That lesson must be learned when dealing with the rest of the region. There had to be reform of the structures, otherwise reconstruction would fail.
Asked about the consequences of the article on corruption, Mr. Bildt said he was not worried about it. Honesty paid. There must be proper policies. Speaking personally, when he had been High Representative in Bosnia he had said to the leaders of the country that he would not recommend taxpayers to continue to fund structures which had not been reformed. It would be dishonest both to the people of Bosnia and to the taxpayers in the outside world. It was only proper to provide information about the need for reforms and about the fact that they had not been advancing to the desired extent.
A correspondent asked what the odds were for Kosovo to return to a multi-ethnic state. Mr. Bildt replied that he was in the business of not giving odds to different developments in the Balkans, but of making certain the United Nations did its utmost to achieve results. The human rights situation in Kosovo was not satisfactory for minorities. The KFOR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNMIK were doing their best, but there were limits to what could be done.
"You can't have a tank protecting every elderly lady. It does not seem to work, because you can always sneak around the tank, anyhow", he said. That was the tragedy. What was encouraging was the fact that some very prominent Kosovo Albanians had strongly condemned what was happening. He hoped that those statements would contribute to the improvement of the situation, but no guarantees could be given.
To a question regarding the ethnic situation in Bosnia, he said there had been an improvement, which was not dramatic, but significant. He did not expect Bosnia to return to what it had been in 1991. In addition to their feelings about war, young people were not interested in returning to their native villages. Yes, there were impediments of a political nature in certain areas, but primarily it was the economic situation that was preventing the return to a multi-ethnic society.
Asked what could be done about the situation where it was not possible to protect returning minorities in Kosovo, and where there was a possibility of having "an almost entirely ethnic Albanian Kosovo still under the Yugoslav flag", Mr. Bildt said that it had to be remembered that there was a substantial number of Albanians living in Serbia. For the long-term stability, it was important to preserve the multi-ethnic component of different societies. What could be done was to provide immediate protection, which the UNMIK civilian police was contributing. To take political initiative to reduce the tension, the Kosovo Transitional Council was meeting, and statements had been made by local leaders calling for an end to the terror against minorities.
Asked what priority was given to the protection of children in Kosovo, Mr. Bildt answered that most in Kosovo were children. Those were extremely young societies. In Albania, for example, 50 per cent of the population was below 20. There was much concern about education in the area; schools were supposed to open at the beginning of September. Initiatives were also introduced by Mr. Kouchner to get the university system going. Education was the key to the future of the children of Kosovo, and it was a priority. There were also concerns with food, shelter and winterization. Steps were being taken in that respect.
Asked about the need for reforms, he said that at the end of the 1980s, Yugoslavia had been rather well-off, compared to other countries of the Socialist bloc. Since then, other countries had been taking off, while former Yugoslavia had been going down. Now even by optimistic assumptions, it would take it 20 to 25 years just to return to its level of 10 years before. Part of the problem was the application of sanctions, part of it was the bombing, but part of it was also the fact that Serbian society was the least reformed economy in Europe next to Belarus.
In his opinion, the Serbian economy was a combination of "Mafiosi" and "Nomenklatura" economies. The "Mafiosi"part was driven by sanctions, which forced people into trying to survive by smuggling. The "Nomenklatura" was the legacy of the socialist system. The cronies of the socialist party were still ruling over the industry. Profound liberalization, privatization and opening up to the rest of the world were needed. Otherwise economic development would not be achieved.
Asked to characterize Bosnia in the same terms, Mr. Bildt said that Serbia was by far the most complicated region where the reform was most needed. He would not like to put the order "on the rest of them", but he would not exclude any when speaking about the need for reform. In Bosnia, the process of privatization had just started and was encountering major difficulties. The difficulties were associated with the old socialist practices. Within the banking system, there was a State monopoly on the handling of cash. A modern economy could not be operated in such a way. Also, hardly any foreign investment was coming in. For example, there was "an on-going saga about the possibility of opening a McDonald's in Sarajevo". It was yet to happen.
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