25 June 2004

The Secretary General has informed the Security Council that he intends to appoint Soren Jessen-Petersen as head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and his Special Representative there. The appointment of the veteran international civil servant from Denmark was welcomed as an indication that, after a string of failed administrators, the Secretary General may be serious about restoring normal life to the tormented Kosovars, while reviving the U.N. paralysis there. Almost all previous appointments by Annan for that post produced no results -- indeed negative results -- either because they lacked the qualifications or they didn't really care enough.

Harri Holkeri of Finland stayed for only 9 months as U.N. Administrator for Kosovo. His health was failing. So was his administration. Now, U.N. officials are considering a replacement. A short list was drawn. It included Steffan Demistura, an Italian/Swede who is a representative for South Lebanon. Another name floated was that of Kai Eide, a Norwegian Ambassador in Europe who was asked to investigate recent violence in the Province. The Departments of Peacekeeping and Political Affairs prepared the usual evaluation. It depends on how a presentation was made to the Secretary General. That will be influenced by Michael Moller (Denmark) who coordinates peacekeeping, political and humanitarian at the Secretary General office. Chef de Cabinet Iqbal Riza would certainly inject his input although he may have a conflict of interest there. One of the candidates, Demistura, had obligingly recruited his son Imren Riza, evading staff rules. Otherwise, someone like Demistura with experience in nearby Italy and South Lebanon would quality at least for consideration. Except that in Pristina, photo opportunities are not enough to deal with simmering, occasionally violent tension. A different approach may be required, particularly that new challenges to the U.N. will be expected next fall. Already, one local player Hachem Tachi, former Kosovo Liberation Army leader turned politician, is claiming that in its ineffective shape, the U.N. mission there will have no use.

Unfortunately, Kofi Annan's successive appointments in Kosovo were made for external political expediency and not for actually running an efficient people oriented operation. Except for Bernard Kuchner who knew how to handle Kosovars and win the media but was seen as anti-Serb, the record is quite unimpressive. Five representatives in five years -- an average of one per year -- does not convince a traumatized people that the U.N. Secretary General is serious about their fate. After Kuchner, Hans Hakkerup descended from Denmark behaving like he was Prime Minister but with no back up resources. He was disliked openly by the Albanian majority without winning the Serbs or others. Michael Steiner was hated by everyone. His arrogance provoked even his own compatriots. It was commonly known that his appointment was an accommodation to the German Chancellor after an embarrassing national scandal at Moscow airport. When the noise faded, he was retaken by his government as its U.N. Geneva envoy. When Harri Holkeri took over, the former General Assembly President boasted that his advantage other others was that he had never been to Kosovo. And he proceeded to demonstrate his ignorance. He gave the impression that he never read his briefings, nor was he interested in anything to do with his daily duties. During his nine month administration, civil services were at a standstill and worse: no water, no electricity, and no work. The economy was sliding and security non-existent. No one in New York wanted to know. The Representative in Kosovo was THE Representative: unquestioned even while the Province -- and the U.N. reputation -- was going downhill.

That is why the new appointment is crucial, not only for the victimized Kosovars who underwent years of displacement, deaths and poverty, but for the U.N. itself. Let us have at least ONE success story in this bleak string of failures. All the best wishes for Soren Jessen-Petersen.