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Economic Situation in Kosovo Remains 'Bad', UN Administrator Says - 2002-06-27

The United Nations' top administrator in the Serbian province of Kosovo has warned declining international support is threatening to undermine progress in Kosovo. The U.N. official spoke Thursday at a meeting in Geneva that is examining the situation in the Balkans.

Michael Steiner is the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General in Kosovo. He said the economic situation in Kosovo remains bad, with the current jobless rate at around 60 percent. But, he said, progress is occurring in a number of key areas.

He says a constitutional framework is in place, and many institutions, such as the police and judiciary, are functioning well. In the three years that have elapsed since the Kosovo war ended, he said the atmosphere in the province has improved, and the time is right for the Serbs who once lived in the Muslim-dominated province to return. But, he said, their return has to be sustainable; they have to, in other words, be able to make a living.

"In order to make people return and stay, you need to have the preconditions fulfilled, and that means that you need, of course, to have the necessary security. But you also need water, electricity, health care. You need to have them in a position to participate in politics, and they need to have jobs. Now, if you have all that together, this costs. You will not get that without financial engagements," Mr. Steiner said.

He said, so far, more than 4,000 ethnic-Serbs have returned to Kosovo. He acknowledges this is not very much; about 250,000 others who once lived there remain outside the province. He believes many of them would return home if they could be assured of security and jobs. Unfortunately, he said, international support for returns and for developing Kosovo has fallen drastically. For example, he said, the European Union contributed 170 million euros this year to Kosovo, but next year's EU contribution will be much lower, 50 million euros.

Mr. Steiner said, for Kosovo to have a chance at success, it needs money now. "I am not saying that for the next 10 years we need to keep up the same engagement. I think we have less time because there are other priorities. But, still, one needs to finish the job because in the end, if one does not do that, it will be much more expensive," he said.

The U.N. official said it would be folly for the international community to turn away from Kosovo at a time when, he said, there finally is a real chance of success.