As the UN prepares to start final status talks on Kosovo, the BBC's Matt Prodger spoke to Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of United Nations Mission in Kosovo.
Q: Do you expect Kosovo to be independent by this time next year?
A: I expect that status talks will have reached a result by then, but I will not comment on what that final result may be.
Q: The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended that negotiations should begin soon. What is the framework for those negotiations?
A: He has recommended that status talks should begin because there is a growing international understanding - and I would even say consensus - that the status quo is unsustainable. Status talks will begin with shuttle diplomacy, an envoy will be appointed and will shuttle between Pristina, Belgrade, and the capitals of key countries.
Q: How long will the process take?
A: Anywhere between six and 12 months. That's why I say that by this time next year there will be an outcome.
Q: Serbia says it will not accept independence for Kosovo, yet Kosovar Albanians say they will not accept anything less. What will be the compromise?
A: The very fact that these two positions are diametrically opposed also means that there would be no sense in asking the two sides to sit down and solve it. That would almost be an exercise in futility. If we want to arrive at a solution then we cannot expect them to agree.
Q: So it will be a "top down" solution, devised by the international community and imposed on the two sides? If so, what is it?
A: Not exactly. First of all, it's extremely important both in Kosovo and Belgrade that there is some kind of a dialogue. And also within civil society. They need to prepare their people both in Serbia and here. I know this is easier said than done but it must happen. Secondly, status talks will be conducted according to a set of already agreed guiding principles. For example: no partition of Kosovo; no return to the situation before March 1999; no union of Kosovo with neighbouring states; and other important principles such as protection of minorities, protection of important sites.
Q: The phrase "conditional independence" is being used a lot to describe the most probable outcome of talks. What do you understand by that?
A: I don't really know what it means, but I would say that in Europe today there are very few countries that have what I would call full sovereignty; some is ceded to international institutions such as the European Union. If you look at the countries in this region, they're already under a lot of conditions - the international financial institutions, the EU stabilisation and association agreements, conditions on entry to the EU in the case of Croatia. We are already looking at an important set of conditions imposed on states in the region.
Q: How are you going to enshrine the protection of minorities, in particular Serbs?
A: The protection of minorities in any status settlement is absolutely key. Whatever authority emerges from the status talks, the first it would do is ask for a continued international security presence - Nato. On police and justice, the EU. What there will certainly not be is a UN presence. Unmik will come to an end with a decision on status for Kosovo. But it's more than likely the international presence will continue in other forms and mainly through European institutions - the EU, OSCE and on the security side Nato. No doubt about that.
Q: Do you think Kosovo is ready to administer itself? Talks are going ahead without a number of key standards being met despite an earlier assurance that those standards would come first.
A: Let me qualify that - not fully met. Nobody disputes the fact that there has been a lot of progress. The discussion is about the degree of progress.
We know that on the standards linked to minority issues there are problems. On the return of refugees, for example - there has been an insignificant number of returns. On freedom of movement, we still have a problem where more than 20% of people say they don't feel they can move freely. These are problems that have to be addressed.
On the other hand, institutions are improving, there has been progress in the rule of law, we have a fairly good local Kosovo police service, the foundations have been laid for a legislative framework for the economy. The real improvement will only come with status. Frankly the standards that Kosovo has been asked to meet are standards that even my own country Denmark would have difficulties meeting.
Q: Kosovo is under international administration and the role that Serbia has in running it is minimal. Does it really matter what Belgrade thinks?
A: It matters because what we are seeking to do is not merely normalise Kosovo but normalise and stabilise the region. It also matters because UN resolution 1244 still recognises a role for Belgrade. Serbia's sovereignty has been temporarily suspended.
But most important is that the settlement of Kosovo must be in the interest of regional stabilisation and that means we have to be extremely careful how that is addressed. I think the way to do it is a settlement in the context of a clear European perspective for the region including, of course, Serbia.
Q: Is the intention ultimately is to take Kosovo into the EU alongside Serbia?
A: The intention is to take the entire region into the EU, and frankly if you do that then at the end of the day it doesn't really matter where the lines are.
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Published: 2005/10/24 08:38:10 GMT