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Milosevic Warned Not To Make Trouble by U.N.’s Holbrooke

By David Holley

Richard Holbrooke, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Sunday not to make trouble in northern Kosovo, where a predominantly Serbian enclave abuts Serbia proper.

Holbrooke, who arrived in this provincial capital a day earlier, participated in a flurry of meetings Sunday with U.N. officials, local leaders and the commander of multinational forces in Kosovo. The discussions ranged from the situation in the city of Kosovska Mitrovica -- split between ethnic Albanian and Serbian sectors -- to the effort to build a U.N.-led administration in the province and the threat that corruption poses to its transition to democracy.

“Many problems remain, and sometimes forging a peace is more difficult than winning a war,” he said.

The issue of Kosovska Mitrovica is especially sensitive because the Serbian sector is connected to the main part of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic, through a strip of northern Kosovo that ethnically is now almost entirely Serbian. Physical proximity gives the residents an ability to travel easily to and from Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, that does not exist for Serbs in the rest of Kosovo, who fear passing through Albanian-dominated areas.

Many ethnic Albanians, meanwhile, charge that significant numbers of armed Serbian paramilitary fighters are in the Serb-controlled northern sector of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Asked about the issue, Holbrooke said: “If the Belgrade authorities are using the corridor they have to Mitrovica to use the local Serb population to agitate ... and undermine the general attempts we’re having to bring in security, then ... they will be making another grave mistake.”

But Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, the British commander of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, known as KFOR, said at a joint news conference with Holbrooke that in discussing allegations that paramilitary forces remain in Kosovska Mitrovica, “the first thing you have to do is define ‘paramilitary.’ ”

“If you’re saying there are people on the north side of the river in Mitrovica with weapons, I wouldn’t disagree,” Jackson said. “But then there are people all over Kosovo with weapons. This is, sadly, not an unusual matter.”

While the situation in Kosovska Mitrovica involves ethnic Albanians’ fear of entering Serb-dominated areas, in most of Kosovo the key security issue is the safety of Serbs. Of about 200,000 Serbs who lived in the province a year ago, only about 20,000 are estimated to remain. Their safety was a topic at many of Holbrooke’s meetings Sunday.

Holbrooke also issued blunt warnings about the danger that corruption might undermine Kosovo’s progress, and pressed local political leaders for a strong commitment to democracy.

Speaking with reporters after meeting with Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who is now the prime minister of a self-declared provisional government of Kosovo, Holbrooke gave the impression that their talks had been particularly candid.

Standing next to Thaci, who had described himself and Holbrooke as agreeing on all issues that Thaci mentioned, Holbrooke said: “The creation of a pluralistic democracy is not going to be easy. But Mr. Thaci assured me of his commitment to those principles. ... One additional thing we talked about is the issue of corruption. Corruption is a cancer that can destroy the positive achievements of a regime.”

Questioned later about his comment on corruption, the ambassador confirmed that his remarks were directed in part at problems within the KLA.

“Members of the KLA -- some, I’m sure -- are involved in things which are not acceptable from that point of view. Others are not,” he said.

“There has been tremendous anger here and a tremendous desire among some people for revenge,” Holbrooke added. “We all understand that. It goes with the end of wars of this sort, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, and it doesn’t mean we can condone it. I made that point to Mr. Thaci.”