1. Archive

British official named NATO secretary-general

British Defense Secretary George Robertson, named on Wednesday as NATO's new secretary-general, faces two immediate challenges when he takes over from Spain's Javier Solana in October.

The first is guiding NATO's European members toward the ambitious goal of expanding their military capacity so they don't have to rely on the United States as heavily as they did in the Kosovo war. The second is repairing relations with Russia, badly strained by NATO attacks on Russian ally Serbia.

Robertson, 53, whose thick Scottish burr may be difficult for some non-Britons to understand, comes to his new task after two years as British defense secretary. While the Labor Party was out of power, he was shadow Scottish secretary, but Prime Minister Tony Blair shifted him to the defense job when he was elected in 1997.

Robertson came to prominence during the Kosovo war. A close personal relationship with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen may have helped him secure his appointment by the North Atlantic Council in Brussels in place of Solana, who has agreed to become the European Union's foreign policy representative.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping was the first choice of some Europeans for the NATO job. But when he made clear he didn't want the post, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder didn't want to part with him, the United States and its allies quickly reached agreement on Robertson.

Unlike some officials of the Labor Party, who favored unilateral nuclear disarmament in the years before Blair took over, Robertson has always been regarded as sound on defense issues. He enjoys support from British generals, and oversaw a strategic defense review last year that was widely admired as a prescription for restructuring military forces after the Cold War. It is being copied by the French.

In Dunblane, the Scottish town where he lives, Robertson told reporters shortly before his appointment was announced: "There are huge challenges ahead of NATO today. We've got to learn the lessons of Kosovo, the successes, but also what it has brought home to us, and that is the fact that Europe must do more for its own defense."

Addressing his second challenge, he said, "We must also build our relationships with the Russians, and that is going to be very important." He singled out Ukraine as another country with which NATO must cultivate ties.

The United States provided four-fifths of the air power used in the Kosovo war, and Blair has been promoting the idea _ with Robertson's backing _ that Europe needs to do more to develop military capability in terms of air- and sealift capacity, intelligence and command-and-control capabilities.

The NATO secretary-general's job is traditionally held by a European, while the military leadership of the alliance is reserved for a U.S. general. Robertson will be only the 10th secretary-general in the alliance's 50-year history, and the third Briton to hold the job. He will receive a tax-free salary of around $200,000.

Born on the Hebridean island of Islay, famous for its single-malt whisky, Robertson is the son of a police officer and the brother of another one.

As a schoolboy, he was attracted to the Scottish National Party, which favors independence for Scotland, but is now one of its staunch opponents. He worked his way up in the Scottish Labor Party to become chairman at age 29, and was elected to Parliament in 1978 after an early career as a union official.

Until the sweeping Labor victory in 1997, Robertson was best known in Britain as an anti-gun campaigner. His district includes the town of Dunblane, and his three children had gone to the elementary school where a gunman killed 17 people in 1996. Robertson then led the successful drive to ban handgun ownership in Britain.

As defense minister, however, Robertson has shown a genuine interest in weaponry, and he has pushed for a new generation of portable, multipurpose weapons for post-Cold War forces. He has been a designer and an advocate of Blair's European Security and Defense Initiative, an effort to encourage Western Europe to beef up its defenses and reduce its dependence on the American nuclear deterrent.

_ Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

U.N. official visits

mass grave in Kosovo

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia _ The U.N. mission chief in Kosovo visited a grave site on Wednesday that contained the remains of dozens of ethnic Albanians and warned that the world is mistaken if it thinks the province's war is a thing of the past.

"People believe all over the world that now the war in Kosovo is over," Bernard Kouchner said. "That is not true, because of the families suffering."

Underscoring the ethnic tension that still plagues the Serbian province were reports of more slayings and the arrests of eight ethnic Albanians by NATO peacekeeping troops; they were accused of evicting Serbs by force. U.S. troops said the deaths included an ethnic Albanian and a Serb killed early Wednesday in a shootout that erupted as a convoy of Serbs headed out of Kosovo.

"Unbelievable," Kouchner said as he toured the grave site on a hill overlooking Kosovska Mitrovica, a northern Kosovo mining town still divided between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

War crimes investigators have identified 72 graves in and around an existing cemetery at the site and have retrieved 40 to 50 bodies for autopsies in the past 10 days, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the international war crimes tribunal.

Some of the corpses were in body bags, and the bodies appeared to have been transported to the site from April to June, when Serb forces were conducting a campaign of killings and expulsions against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

"Some of them appear to have been tortured," Risley said. Most had been shot at close range.