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Counting the cost of reconstruction

KOSOVO CRISIS

This week a British task force of industry leaders and Government officials travelled to Kosovo to assess the region's reconstruction needs. NCE joined the Royal Engineers on initial inspections of the damage ahead of the visit to reveal what the task force could expect. Report and pictures by Matthew Jones.

The European Union estimated last week that the cost of reconstructing Kosovo would be in the region of £2.65bn over the next three years. But EU commissioner for Eastern Europe Hans van den Broek admitted this was an initial guess, based on reports of the situation inside Kosovo and the EU's experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On the ground, no civilian agency has carried out an accurate assessment of the damage to infrastructure and homes because the security situation is still considered too unstable. Only armed military engineers have started counting the cost of the destruction caused by weeks of Nato bombing and sustained arson attacks orchestrated by the Serbs on ethnic Albanians.

The process of building up an accurate picture will be slow since it relies on KFOR brigades reporting back to headquarters in Kosovan capital Pristina each time they discover some damage. As a military force, KFOR is only interested in damage which affects its military operations, so anything else is seen as low priority.

However, a few days spent in the country inspecting the damage by road and from the air quickly reveals heavy infrastructure was not as badly hit as Nato commanders had expected. Serbia was a canny opponent, avoiding at least some of the attacks by camouflaging bridges with coloured paint and foliage and constructing dummy bridges and roads out of black polythene a few hundred metres away from the real target.

Despite this, Colonel Bede Grossmith, commander of the British Royal Engineers in Kosovo and Macedonia, warns there are concerns about the country's infrastructure.

'We need to get chemicals for the water supply, quarries up and running because all the prime plant has been vandalised, and open up the railways which have been damaged. We also need to start restoring fuel storage facilities so we can get the movement of goods restarted and have fuel for essential services such as refuse trucks,' he says.

In the countryside, it is also apparent that help is urgently needed for the thousands of people whose homes were gutted by fire as first the Serbs pushed the ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo, and now the returning Albanians seek revenge. In one typical village called Kacikol just outside Pristina, only five out of 190 houses are habitable. This pattern is repeated across the country.

Further problems with the infrastructure stem from 1990 when Kosovo's political autonomy was cancelled by the Serbian parliament and its assembly and government were dissolved. Since then, says Grossmith, little investment has taken place, leaving roads throughout the country to deteriorate, Pristina's sewage treatment plant unfinished and unused, and public buildings in a poor state of repair.

The British Army has taken a lead role in restoring water to Pristina and in kick-starting civic duties such as waste disposal. But Grossmith describes this as only 'short-term patch work' and makes it clear that the army's role is limited.

'Our main mission is to establish a secure and safe environment, and that is where restoring the infrastructure comes in. But we're getting to the point where we are going beyond our capability and would rather advise civilian organisations on what can be done,' he says.

The Royal Engineers are already keeping in close touch with industry leaders in the UK through the Engineer & Logistic Staff Corps Royal Engineers (Volunteers), and have put specialists from Thames Water and the National Grid on standby to help with emergency infrastructure problems. Roger Urwin, MD of Transmission National Grid and an E & LSC Colonel, was deployed on 29 June.

In the long term, KFOR will look to the EU together with the United Nations and other members of the international community to lead the reconstruction. An initial donor meeting to discuss international funding for reconstruction is planned for the end of the month, with further meetings due in the autumn.

Once funds have been committed, work will be awarded under the standard EU procurement rules and managed from an EU reconstruction agency office to be established in Pristina or Skopje. But the process is likely to take a few months at least to get off the ground. Until then the military could find itself in charge of civil infrastructure for longer than expected.

Information about the rebuilding of Kosovo can be sourced from the joint EU/World Bank web site at www.seerecon.org

The Kosovo regeneration task force can be contacted at the Department of Trade & Industry on (0171) 215 5000.

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