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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 17:32 GMT
Kosovo's unconventional new chief
Kosovo Albanians attack a UN vehicle
Both sides in Kosovo are angry with the UN
By the BBC's Bill Hayton

The new chief of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, has taken up his post.

Michael Steiner
Michael Steiner: Reputation for undiplomatic behaviour
The Balkans expert and former German foreign policy adviser succeeds a Danish politician, Hans Haekkerup, who resigned late last year.

Mr Steiner is a colourful figure with a reputation for controversy, but this job will demand all his political and diplomatic skills.

Relations between the ethnic Albanian majority and the Serb minority in Kosovo remain tense despite the end of hostilities and the province's first elections last year.

Unconventional

Mr Steiner is not a typical diplomat. He was a student rebel in Munich in 1968 and is a long standing supporter of Amnesty International.

He first came to public attention in 1989 when, as a junior diplomat in Czechoslovakia, he was filmed helping people over the wall of his embassy so they could flee the eastern bloc.

After that, he spent several years working on the Balkans where he developed a reputation as an almost fanatical workaholic who got things done but was not an easy colleague.

He was tipped to take on the post of the international community's high representative in Bosnia. But the then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, is said to have vetoed his appointment because of Mr Steiner's turbulent past.

Caviar affair

Instead he went on to become foreign policy adviser to Mr Kohl's successor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Tins of caviar
The caviar affair was Steiner's downfall
Mr Steiner is widely credited with persuading Mr Schroeder to take a more active role on the world stage - in particular during the conflicts in Kosovo and more recently in Macedonia and Afghanistan.

But it has not been a smooth journey - Mr Steiner has developed a reputation for undiplomatic behaviour.

It ended when he had an argument with a young member of the German air force during a long flight from Asia in which he sarcastically demanded caviar.

The caviar affair, as it was known, was one incident too many and he was fired.

Delicate challenge

His appointment as the new head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo was generally welcomed and with a staff of 5,000 and a budget of $400m, he will have plenty of influence.

But his biggest challenge will be persuading Kosovans to work together. Both the ethnic Albanian community and the Serb and other non-Albanian communities are unhappy with the UN.

Albanians want an independent Kosovo where they will run all their affairs and they see the international presence as an obstacle to achieving that dream.

But Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanians accuse the international presence of failing to prevent Albanian reprisal attacks against them and not doing enough to ensure the return of the refugees who have fled the province since 1999.

It is a delicate situation and one not particularly well suited to blunt speaking. Mr Steiner will have to tread carefully.

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Europe
UN's Kosovo chief resigns
15 Jan 01 | Europe
Kosovo UN boss makes poll pledge
15 Jan 01 | Europe
Kosovo boss faces tightrope walk
09 Dec 00 | Europe
Dane named as new Kosovo chief
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