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Engineers keep 'ethnic balance' in Kosovo

NEWS

ARMY ENGINEERS in Kosovo are having to take on major civic duties due to continuing ethnic tensions in the capital Pristina.

Officers from the British Royal Engineers stepped into the role following fears that the mainly Serbian utility workers in the city would flee Kosovo as ethnic Albanians return home.

Commanding officer of 21 Engineer Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Nield has been dubbed the temporary Mayor of Pristina after reorganising utilities and waste disposal.

In addition, Major Jim Crawford, commander of 521 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Water Development), was appointed temporary chairman of the Kosovo water board after cuts in the water supply prompted angry demonstrations this week.

The current troubles stem back to 1990 when the Yugoslav government cancelled Kosovo's political autonomy. About 115,000 ethnic Albanians suspected of having nationalist sympathies were removed from their jobs in utilities, schools, nationalised factories and hospitals and replaced by Serbs.

Sacked Albanian workers returning after the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces were this week demanding their jobs back in increasingly violent confrontations.

Nield said the Army's major concern was getting the two ethnic groups to work together to prevent the provision of essential services coming to a halt.

'There is no local government and no real United Nations involvement at the moment, so we are trying to get things kick-started,' he said.

'What I can't do is sack the Serbs and put the Albanians back in their place. We have to equate the ethnic balance, otherwise we are likely to get more vandalism of utility equipment.'

Crawford has negotiated the appointment of two Albanian directors to the water board to sit alongside the two existing Serb directors. He will continue to mediate between the two factions until UN co-ordinators arrive.

The move follows complaints from ethnic Albanians that their water supply was being cut off deliberately by the Serbs.

'I have had to explain that the cuts are being carried out on a rotational basis because pumping stations have been affected by Nato bombing,' he said. 'Until we address the politics it will be difficult to get down to the engineering that is needed.'

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