Monday, October 03, 2005

Kosovo's difficult road - The International Herald Tribune

Hans Binnendijk International Herald Tribune


Kosovo will probably receive some form of independence next year as a product of United Nations-led shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina. But those in the United States looking for an exit strategy from Kosovo will have a long wait. Negotiations will be difficult, the exact outcome remains uncertain and a significant international presence will need to remain in Kosovo to guarantee whatever final status can be achieved.

The UN envoy Kai Eide's report on political and economic standards in Kosovo, to be issued soon, will probably present a mixed picture of progress. The international community has introduced democratic reform and economic development, but Kosovo remains a deeply divided territory with parallel Kosovar and Belgrade-directed structures, weak political leadership, an unemployment rate of perhaps half the population, mafia influence in most matters, and heavy reliance on the West for security.

Despite these problems, the move to limited independence is under way. The Albanian majority has run out of patience with the UN Mission in Kosovo, which is widely if unfairly blamed for Kosovo's misery and has been threatened with a terror campaign if independence is not granted soon. Western diplomats have concluded that further delay is not feasible. Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, is being discussed as the likely UN envoy to undertake shuttle diplomacy.

The six-nation contact group - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia - which will guide Ahtisaari's efforts, agrees on three basic negotiating principles: no return to Serbian sovereignty, no partition of Kosovo and no unification of Kosovo with its Albanian neighbors. There is widespread agreement that Serbia forfeited its sovereignty over Kosovo with its brutal ethnic cleansing in 1999. Partition of Kosovo would set an unacceptable precedent for Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans. Union with Albania is not on the agenda for most Kosovars.

These principles will be hard for Belgrade to accept because it will lose not only sovereignty over Kosovo but also several Serbian minority enclaves and many sites central to Serbian cultural heritage. Belgrade remains divided between the forces of President Boris Tadic and a nationalist coalition led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, which may make concessions even more difficult. The international community will need to convince reluctant politicians in Serbia that they have more to gain from closer ties to the West than they lose by accepting these three principles.

The rights of Serbian minorities need special protection, especially after the Albanian Kosovar rioters destroyed about 30 Serbian churches in March 2004. Getting this wrong could easily lead to renewed conflict. Decentralization of power to the local level throughout Kosovo will help, but special arrangements will be needed in Mitrovica and three Serbian municipalities north of the Ibar River, where education, health care, security and finance are all controlled by Belgrade.

The area north of the Ibar will need to become a protected zone for the Serbian minority, with Kosovar sovereignty but special international status at least during an interim period.

Security in the new independent Kosovo will require continued international attention. Kosovo has no army and its small Kosovo Protection Corps needs significant technical and financial help from the West. International civilian police officers will be needed in strength to oversee the fledgling Kosovo Police Service.

Most important, however, the NATO mission, known as KFOR, must stay. These 17,000 troops from more than 30 countries will still be needed to provide stability for the young nation. The United States contributes only about 10 percent of the KFOR troops, but that contingent is critical. Any notion of shifting the Kosovo peacekeeping mission to the European Union as was done in Bosnia is premature. The U.S. base in Southeastern Kosovo should remain as part of the new U.S. forward posture in Europe.

KFOR troops will have to operate in the new Mitrovica zone, an area they have thus far avoided, to assure the safety and eventual integration of the Serbian population. The national units represented in KFOR need to be reorganized in a task force structure to assure smoother operations. And cooperation between KFOR and the international civilian police operation has been poor and will need improvement to secure this transition. KFOR, the Kosovo Protection Corps and the Kosovo Police Service must be able to work together effectively as seamless providers of internal and external security.

As the United Nations ends its mission, the European Union will need to take up the slack. The EU already oversees economic reconstruction and development. That task has just begun.

With the United Nations engaging in shuttle diplomacy to arrange final status, NATO continuing to provide security, and the EU accelerating its economic development activities, a new Kosovo nation will have a reasonable chance of survival and - eventually - prosperity.

Hans Binnendijk is director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.

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