Wednesday, April 27, 2005

High stakes in Kosovo's freedom bid


FOR the people of Kosovo, it is the question on which their future hangs: When and how will they get their independence?

Independence means jobs, self-determination, their own country and a final separation from the hated Serbs in Belgrade for Kosovo’s 90 per cent Albanian population.

For the international officials from the United Nations and NATO, giving Kosovo autonomy could mean putting it on to the train to Europe.

Soren Jessen Petersen, the UN’s de facto pro-consul in Kosovo, is the man whose task it is to negotiate a resolution to the thorny question of the area’s future status.

The tiny former Yugoslav province has been under international supervision by the UN and NATO since Serb forces withdrew in June 1999.

UN Security Council Resolution 1244 mandated the international community’s entry into Kosovo after an illegal but legitimate 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Slobodan Milosevic’s atrocity-prone Serbs to the negotiating table.

The aspirant statelet has been in political limbo ever since.

"We’re almost into the final stretch, and as we get more close to status discussions the stakes are higher and the risks increase," said Mr Jessen Petersen.

"There are three phases. One is status, two is UN support and monitoring, and three is transition and phasing out. In between phases two and three will come a new UN Security Council resolution."

Kosovo will then have its status determined. But will this be full independence? David Gowan, Britain’s ambassador to Belgrade, suggested this week that independence was one option being considered.

The UK is one of the six countries that make up the so-called Contact Group, along with France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States.

The Contact Group is currently considering how much progress Kosovo as a whole has made towards fulfilling an internationally-decided list of "standards" in areas such as good democratic governance and respect for ethnic minorities.

Most importantly, if extremist Albanians can refrain from political and ethnic violence it is likely that the international community will mark their standards box with a tick.

The way will then be clear for talks on "status" to begin. If all goes well, says Mr Jessen-Petersen, UNMIK will then oversee the process of transition of government and sovereignty once a new UN Security Council resolution has been signed.

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