It has become distressingly fashionable to belittle the efforts of the international community in Kosovo and to present a picture of frustration and failure. And it's true that the situation in Kosovo is not as good as any of us would like. But the acts of hatred and vengeance that still occur--albeit on a much smaller scale than before--do not represent the whole story.

Only six months ago, nearly one million Kosovars were living in refugee camps. Inside Kosovo, a further 500,000 people had fled their homes, which were being systematically destroyed to prevent them from returning. Identity cards and records were being confiscated. Organized, massive violence and destruction were being deliberately inflicted on the civilian population. Life for Kosovar Albanians was precarious.

Today more than 800,000 refugees have returned home with unprecedented speed. The hostilities have ended, and all Serb forces have withdraw. The Kosovo Liberation Army has been disbanded and demilitarized by the international force known as KFOR, handing over some 10,000 weapons.

Newspapers have highlighted individual attacks against Serbs and other minorities. But the murder rate in Kosovo has dropped significantly. There were only 25 murders in October; that is 25 too many but fewer than occurred in many of the world's larger cities that month.

That said, maintaining security will remain NATO's most pressing task. There are still too few international civilian police, but progress is being made. The U.N. civil police have taken over responsibility for law and order in Pristina and Prizren. A few days ago, the first multi-ethnic class of the Kosovo Police Academy graduated. Judges and court officers are being appointed on a multi-ethnic basis.

The humanitarian assistance situation is improving as well. The U.N.'s winterization program is about 70 percent complete. The World Food Programme is providing aid to 650,000 Kosovars, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and others are currently providing shelter kits benefiting 380,000 people. The whole province resembles one enormous building site, with bricks, mortar, sand and the sounds of construction everywhere.

Some 500 schools have been demined, and 300,000 children went back to school this fall to be taught in their own language for the first time in 10 years. The main power plant in Kosovo was recently reopened and the amount of electricity generated in Kosovo today is almost triple the level produced over the past few years.

This winter will not be an easy one for the people of Kosovo, but the United Nations, nongovernmental agencies and KFOR, working together, will ensure that basic needs are met. Looking farther ahead, pledges of more than $1 billion in aid through the end of 2000 were made at the Second Kosovo Donors' Conference held in Brussels on Nov. 17.

War crimes investigations are also well in hand. KFOR has assisted the International Criminal Tribunal in locating and securing 500 gravesites. So far, work has been completed at nearly 200 sites and more than 2,000 bodies have been exhumed. Investigators have found evidence that bodies were removed from many sites before the arrival of international teams. The full scope of the ethnic murdering under Milosevic may never be known, but we remain firmly committed to prosecuting those responsible for these horrific crimes.

It is true the situation in Kosovo is far from rosy, but it is also far better than in the past. Kosovo suffered 40 years of disastrous communist economic policies and 10 years of de facto apartheid under Milosevic even before ethnic cleansing began. Against this sad history, reconstruction, reconciliation and the building of a secure peace will take more than the few months that KFOR and the U.N. Mission in Kosovo have had in that province thus far.

The experiences of Northern Ireland, Lebanon and Bosnia show that with patience and determination, progress that was once thought impossible can be achieved. The goal of a democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo will require our continuing commitment in coming years. Without such a commitment, the current hope felt by Kosovars will give way to disillusionment, and our investment in stabilizing that corner of Europe will be lost. Our work is cut out for us, but we have made a good beginning. Now we must see the job through.

The writer is secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a former British defense minister.