Prishtina [Pristina], 9 May: After receiving initial signals from the UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] administration about the Kosovars' "quite positive" progress in the implementation of the Standards [for Kosovo], the international team involved in resolving the status of Kosova [Kosovo] has started to prepare the ground for the start of talks on status. Diplomats from the Contact Group country members say that Kosova has already entered the phase of "bringing friends closer" or gaining the support of the most important factors in order to open the status issue as soon as possible.
"We have seen ups and downs in the negotiations on technical issues, especially in the area of decentralization. We expect to have more or less the same situation on the issue of religious heritage on 23 May, and on the economy - though no exact date has been set - this is expected to happen on 29 May and 2 June. Even though it seems to us that 31 May would be more appropriate, we will see what Albert Rohan [UN deputy envoy on Kosovo status] brings after his visit to the two capitals," a Contact Group source told Koha Ditore.
There will be parallel visits that are expected to start by mid-May, where on one side Albert Rohan will start to "negotiate the first compromise" on the issue of decentralization, while Stefan Lehne [EU envoy on Kosovo status], on the other, will explore all the possibilities to ensure that there are no wasted meetings before UNMIK chief Soeren Jessen-Petersen reports to the UN Security Council session, in order to strengthen the position of [UN] chief negotiator Martti Ahtisaari.
"President Ahtisaari is expected to line up the five permanent UN members in his support. He will have the most difficult part of his job in Moscow and Beijing. In the meantime, we in the Contact Group can only offer our support and wait for the conclusions of these meetings," Contact Group officials said.
According to the office of Martti Ahtisaari, their chief plans to visit Moscow first, on 25 May, and Beijing on 5-6 June. Before the visits to Moscow and Beijing, Ahtisaari is expected to conclude a cycle of visits in the region within the next 10 days. On Friday [12 May] he will visit Prague, while next week he will be in Bucharest.
The diplomats do not hide their fear that not everything can go as foreseen by them. According to them, if Prishtina slows down or stagnates in the fulfilment of the priority Standards, then the Kosovars themselves will be responsible for the postponement of the status definition process.
"These things will be clear after Mr Rohan returns from Belgrade and Prishtina. At this moment we do not expect he will be able to get anything from Belgrade. But who knows, we are very much satisfied that there is an agreement on three new municipalities - Ranillug [Ranilug], Gracanice [Gracanica] and Novoberde [Novo Brdo] - and here we expect compromises. We cannot say from whom, but this is what Albert Rohan has tasked himself to do in the Balkans. We do not expect an agreement, but a compromise, and Rohan is aware of this," diplomats told Koha Ditore.
The Contact Group diplomats say that they will discuss and assess the situation in the technical talks by themselves in the French capital on 25 May. According to them, the final version of the UNMIK report on the technical evaluation of fulfilment of the Standards, as well as a personal report by Rohan on the talks on decentralization, will be on the table at this meeting. During the meeting a conclusion will be drawn as to "which doors must be knocked on to exert pressure". Diplomats say that that meeting will be the final chance for Prishtina and Belgrade to take the negotiations seriously.
"We cannot say that we are not satisfied with the course of talks, but neither side has shown sufficient seriousness. In the last round of talks in Vienna we had the impression that we were in a circus, since both sides made fun and laughed at the stance of the other side. We hope that they will laugh when it is all over," a Western diplomat, who insisted on not being named, said.
Source: Koha Ditore, Pristina, in Albanian 10 May 06 p 1