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Press Briefing on Kosovo

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"I am still an optimist", Dr. Bernard Kouchner, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo, and the Head of the United Nations Mission in the province (UNMIK), told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon, as he was asked whether he was still as big an optimist as he had been just over six months ago.
Dr. Kouchner said, while "big" depended on the dimension of the "big" and was a sort of secret pathology in a place such as Kosovo, there was still a place nevertheless for optimism. In several areas, the response in Kosovo was quicker than other peacekeeping missions. He said, while he believed that it was too early to speak about reconciliation, coexistence was still possible.

Dr. Kouchner drew attention to situations in Lebanon, Cyprus and Ireland and stated that "we are quicker". It took between 10, 20 or 30 years to change the behaviour, mentality, and the spirit of people.

General Klaus Reinhardt, Commander of the International Force in Kosovo (KFOR), said that had he too not been optimistic about the situation in the province, he would have gone home. "If I did not have the feeling that we could succeed doing the job the way we do, it would all be in vain."

Responding to a question as to whether he was frustrated by the United States lack of readiness to participate in efforts to contain hot spots, General Reinhardt said every nation had its own restrictions. The United States had performed well in Mitrovica and he was very pleased with them. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had said, if "there is problem I will get them". That was exactly what he needed to know in the event of a problem.

Dr. Kouchner added that what was sought from the meeting with the Council today was illumination and support. Both had been received. First, there was absolute consensus that there must be local elections in Kosovo before the end of the year. Second, an offer to visit Kosovo had been extended to members of the Council. That had been taken into account and more or less accepted. He wanted members to face the same reality as that faced by UNMIK.

"Altogether, we want to rebuild peace and security for all the communities in the province, particularly the Serbs", said Dr. Kouchner. He also stressed coexistence. Peacekeeping missions always took time -- years and not months. He had also asked the Secretary-General and the Security Council to send someone to Kosovo who would be responsible for missing persons. That was a crucial and very important issue. To restore confidence and build on it, there was a need for news about the thousands of missing persons. That proposal had been accepted, he said.

Dr. Kouchner said confidence had to be ignited and safety and security ensured, mainly on the side of minorities, such as the Serbs. On the other side, "we want to light up part of the future of these people", he said. Security Council resolution 1244 was a bit ambiguous, as were the Rambouillet agreements. The starting point was the protection of minorities which would end in the current phase with local elections. Discussions on that issue had to be started with all the people of Kosovo.

General Reinhardt said the reference to himself and Dr. Kouchner in Kosovo as the "twin brothers" showed the close cooperation that they had established between them. While they had achieved a lot, however, there was still a lot to do. The security for which KFOR was responsible had improved considerably in the last nine months. In the last few weeks, despite the flare up in Mitrovica, the situation in Kosovo was much better than it had been before. There were still a lot of problems associated with providing security for minorities. Such problems stemmed from them being embedded in mental attitudes, such as hatred, vengeance and intolerance. Such attitudes had to be overcome. And he could not overcome such problems with the military alone.

General Reinhardt said the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was being transformed. It has fought for a new Kosovo and was being transformed into a civil organization with no military context or political affiliation. It would eventually become a multi-ethnic organization. The KLA was still in the transformation process, but "we are optimistic that we will succeed", he said. It had never been done before. There was no precedent, but it was believed that the majority of the actions seen today by the Kosovo Protection Corp were very satisfying, even though there were still instances of non-compliance, which "we do not accept", he said.

"We are very concerned about what has been going on in Presovo", General Reinhardt said. "Presovo is Serbia and not an area over which we have authority." It was known that there were people involved there who were coming out of Kosovo. "We will try our utmost not to support them", he stressed. Whoever we see supporting them will be arrested by us, because we cannot support any adventurism which might lead to new atrocities in the Presovo valley."

A correspondent drew attention to the concerns expressed by Dr. Kouchner on the ambiguities in the definition of substantial autonomy for the province. She wanted to know what the Council's reaction was to his request for them to look into a better working definition for UNMIK to operate on the ground.

Responding to that question, Dr. Kouchner said part of the ambiguity was on substantial autonomy. The discussion, however, did not have to be opened on that issue. On the contrary, the example he had given was on the status of minorities. How were they to be protected in a future Kosovo? he asked. "That will certainly drive us to ask, what was the autonomy under former President of the former Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito?"

Dr. Kouchner said that in Rambouillet they spoke of a constitution. Was it too early for that? He asked. Of course, it was. If an election was being prepared, it would lead to such discussions. "So we must be ready with our partners, and all the communities of Kosovo to open the discussion", he added. His main concern was to open the debate on the status and protection of minorities. Final status was something that was very far away, and he was not in charge of that. The Council reaction, overall, was very good. Some members, however, were reluctant to open the door. It had to start as a simple discussion that began with the reality.

A correspondent wanted to know how the whole question of autonomy and its associated ambiguities would affect the military and about the related difficulties that might occur. General Reinhardt said it was a subject that didn't affect his military forces in their day-to-day business. His forces dealt with the very specific question of security and humanitarian aid, which were totally disaffected by such political questions.

A correspondent wanted to know how security activity along the border with Presovo had been enhanced and whether it was a concern that, despite efforts to stop adventurism, Albanian groups in Serbian territory were in fact being fuelled by Kosovo Albanians, such as the KLA or the remnants of it.

General Reinhardt said the boundaries were now closed more than they used to be. Up until now, there had been guaranteed freedom of movement throughout and out of the province. The roads out would now be closed and there would be closer control of every way into the ground safety zone. "We cannot preclude the fact that there might be people moving out of Kosovo through Macedonia and trying to go from there into the Presovo Valley", he said.

General Reinhardt said forces had been readjusted, so that more of them were available for border security. Everybody going in and out of that area would also be watched. Those who had no business there would be investigated. A couple of people who wanted to go into the Presovo area with weapons had just been arrested. That was the scope of actions that were taking place at present, he said.