The faster-than-expected return of ethnic Albanian refugees to their homes in Kosovo has increased the need for immediate funds for humanitarian and reconstruction aid, senior Western officials concluded today.
"It's important to speed up the work to evaluate the needs," said European Union monetary affairs commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy at the inaugural meeting of the U.S., European and Japanese steering group that will oversee rebuilding the Serbian province.
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrial democracies and senior officials from international lending agencies taking part in the meeting reaffirmed that Serbia will receive no assistance other than humanitarian aid for "the most urgent, essential needs" while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in power.
Only when Serbia -- Yugoslavia's dominant republic -- sets up a "democratically elected government that abides by internationally accepted norms and principles" will funding become available, the officials said. The officials said they will "explore urgently" ways of providing aid to Montenegro, Yugoslavia's restive, smaller republic that has distanced itself from the Serb-led government in Belgrade.
"This was a planning meeting, not a pledging meeting," U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said in response to questions about whether the European Union will make good on promises to manage the peace in Kosovo, and presumably pay for a big portion of it.
No agreement has been reached on who will finance the Balkans reconstruction. Privately, European officials are floating the idea of following the model of Bosnia, where European nations paid for about 50 percent of the reconstruction. The United States, other countries and international lending institutions paid the rest. At this point, the only relatively solid figure is the EU's commitment of about $500 million a year for humanitarian aid.
Other cost estimates are not complete. De Silguy said that damage in Kosovo seemed "less than feared." Provisional damage assessments are expected to be complete by the first donors' conference, in Brussels July 28.
The first priority, officials here agreed, was paying for the cost of resettling the more than 800,000 ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo this spring, more than 600,000 of whom have already gone home. U.N. emergency repair kits with frames, plastic sheeting, tools and nails are being used in some parts of the province to help rebuild damaged homes, but the U.N. refugee agency said it cannot afford to spend more than the $10 million per week that it has laid out since the crisis began.