ext talks scheduled for March 17; State's DiCarlo discusses restructured KFOR
By Vince Crawley
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Delegations from Serbia and from Kosovo’s Albanian majority reported generally positive results from their first round of direct negotiations February 21-22 in Vienna, Austria, to settle the future status of the internationally administered province.
U.S. diplomat Rosemary DiCarlo said February 22 in Washington that the United States does not have a formal position on whether Kosovo should be granted independence or retain its current status as an autonomous province of Serbia. “We feel, though, that we must resolve Kosovo’s status in a way that solidifies democratic development in Serbia and Montenegro,” she said.
In Vienna, Kosovo’s former warring parties found “common ground” in discussing how basic services would be administered at the local level to reflect the ethnic makeup of local populations, U.N. officials said.
“The kind of matters we discussed are not earth-shattering matters in the political sense, but they are extremely important for the people concerned,” said Albert Rohan, chairman of the talks and deputy special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general.
Delegates exchanged views on municipal concerns such as health care, education, culture, social welfare and police and justice -- issues that will have to be addressed in any resolution on Kosovo’s future status, said Rohan in a press release from the U.N. news service.
Both parties have agreed to meet again on March 17 to discuss local finance, cooperation between municipalities within Kosovo and between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.
The difficult negotiations originally were known as “final-status talks,” but diplomats recently have begun calling them “future-status talks.” (See related article.)
The U.N.-sponsored talks are aimed at deciding whether Kosovo will become independent or retain its recent status as an autonomous province of Serbia. Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when U.S. and NATO-led military forces fought and expelled Yugoslav Serb troops and police following widespread human-right abuses. At the time, about 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million residents were ethnic Albanians. Following the 1999 war, as many as half the province’s ethnic Serbs fled in the wake of violent reprisals by ethnic Albanians. Today, NATO forces protect minority-Serb communities and religious sites.
U.S. and international diplomats want 2006 to be a key year for Kosovo and the greater southeastern Europe region. “We think it’s a year of decision and change, and it’s an opportunity to finish the job that we began in the ‘90s,” said DiCarlo, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Speaking at a discussion hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, she said Kosovo’s uncertain international status no longer is promoting regional stability.
“We do not think that time is a friend to us in this process,” she said. Members of the informal Contact Group – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia – have “determined that the status quo really satisfies no one,” DiCarlo said. “It only leaves open the possibility for increased violence.”
Kosovo’s unclear international status also has thwarted economic development for the entire region, U.S. officials say.
Serbia seeks a solution that protects the rights of those Serbs still in Kosovo, said Ivan Vujacic, Serbian ambassador to the United States, who also spoke at the Wilson Center conference. He said a key Contact Group goal – multiethnicity within Kosovo – no longer exists because most Kosovar Serbs have fled urban areas and have settled in ethnically isolated rural enclaves.
“We are grateful for the International community being there,” Vujacic said. “If it wasn’t for the international community, no Serbs would be there.” About 150 Serb churches and monasteries are under the protection of international troops, he said.
DiCarlo said Kosovo’s status is “the most difficult remaining issue” in the region of the former Yugoslavia, which violently broke apart in the 1990s. However, she added, “we cannot resolve Kosovo’s status without devoting increased attention to other countries in the region.”
The Contact Group, which was established in 1994 to coordinate international policy on Kosovo, strongly encourages the parties to reach a negotiated solution, rather than having a solution imposed by the international community, DiCarlo said.
“Our priority is in a negotiated solution,” she said.
Responding to a question from the audience, DiCarlo also discussed the potential Kosovo troop reductions alluded to by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a February 3 interview with the Financial Times. Rumsfeld said the U.S. military remains strongly committed to Kosovo but that he is “personally hoping” for an eventual reduction in U.S. troop levels.
DiCarlo told the February 22 briefing that the international Kosovo Force (KFOR) of 16,000 troops – including about 1,700 U.S. troops -- is being restructured.
“The restructuring will allow for a task-force structure, which means that troops are going to be very movable,” she said.
In the past, KFOR troops were organized to patrol specific sectors. However, KFOR came under close scrutiny when troops were in many cases slow to respond to ethnic riots in March 2004. U.S. General James Jones, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, since has restructured KFOR to include new rules of engagement that allow forces to be redeployed quickly within Kosovo without first seeking approval from their home countries.
The new task-force structure “will make the force actually much more effective,” DiCarlo said. “While there may be some reductions in KFOR over the coming years, the kinds of people who are going to be reduced are not the combat-capable forces, but those who run the commissaries, the PXs, etcetera,” she said.
For more on U.S. policy in the region, see Balkans.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)