Zëri carries an extensive interview with PDSRSG Steven Schook, in which he calls for a framework for an international mission in northern Kosovo.
Following is the full translation of the interview.
The process of resolving the status of Kosovo is taking on a new drive. The situation in northern Kosovo cannot remain as it is. In this phase of the negotiations process, the situation in the northern part of Kosovo has gained a lot of importance in the table of the international community and cannot be left asides. The international community is considering the possibility of establishing an international mission that would be a body above the municipal leaders of the southern and northern part of Mitrovica and other municipalities in northern Kosovo. The mission would last 3-4 years with the aim of integrating the north of Kosovo, according to the agreement on final status. The framework that will define this issue will be worked in parallel with other negotiations on status. PDSRSG Steven Schook, who has raised this issue in meetings with the Contact Group, UNOSEK and Kosovar leaders, says that in the northern part there is a lot of political rhetoric coming from “appointed and irresponsible leaders” such as the Serb Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Milan Ivanovic. He says it is a terrible mistake that Serbs didn’t participate in the last elections to have legitimate leaders elected by the free vote that would speak and work for their interests.
In the interview for Zëri, the retired US General, who served in Kosovo for two years, tells how he “transformed” from a military officer into a diplomat and how he came back to Kosovo again.
Present at the meeting of “elephants” in Vienna, which he calls historic, he prefers the free debate from the “minds and hearts” of the leaders rather than reading speeches.
You have earlier served as general in Kosovo. How come you came back here, but now as a diplomat?
I have been in Kosovo for almost two years, and then I went to Sarajevo as commander of SFOR. And then I retired in November of 2005. I went to work in Washington DC for a private company. I was the senior vice president. And one day I got a telephone call from the State Department asking if I would consider them nominating me to the UN as the PDSRSG for UNMIK. And I think I thought about it for a split second and I said absolutely I’d be interested. And then I went through a series of interviews with the United Nations and here I am. I was here for two years. Obviously I became quite attached to the conditions and circumstances here and serving the people here. Given the opportunity to come back at this very critical junction for both the region and for Kosovo I was delighted to do that.
How do you find this transformation? You are working in Kosovo again, but now as a diplomat. Is it difficult?
Well, no, I hope not. I hope it is not too difficult. Quite frankly my last couple of jobs in the military were very close to what I am doing now: dealing with the political leaders, on political issues, trying to move things forward both in Kosovo and in Bosnia. I know there is a perception in the public of military versus being a diplomat, but very often the work that is done in the military, depending on the position you are in, are much related to diplomacy and not only strictly just guns and security. For example in Bosnia I worked in the reform of defence and moving beyond the Dayton Agreement. I met regularly meetings with the Tripartite Presidency of Bosnia, the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister, I went very often to Republika Srpska. And it was a huge decision when they (Serbs) agreed to give up from the Ministry of Defence and from creating an autonomous army in order to create the united army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All these were political decisions that we were working. Therefore I don’t think that it has been a major transition.
You participated at the meeting in Vienna, the so-called elephant round and you heard the Pristina delegation. What is your impression of that meeting. You also had a speech there?
My impression was first of all it was a historical event. It was a historical event without a lot of tension in the air. It was noticeable that there was not a lot of tension in the air. It was conducted by both sides at the highest level of professionalism and diplomacy. And very responsible by both sides. My personal opinion is I thought the Kosovo Delegation is very well prepared, executed very well. And their best session was in the afternoon session. And I hesitate to say this but the reason I say that the best session was the afternoon session because they were not reading speeches, they were speaking from the head and the heart and they were speaking about things as they saw them, and the way we should go. So my message to the Team of Unity was don’t listen to the speechwriters too much, stay with your own instincts.
Ahead the meeting with the Contact Group after the “elephants’” round in Vienna, one of the issues I raised was that as final the status continues to build momentum on speed and nears the recommendation from UNOSEK, things in Kosovo that perhaps we haven’t moved as far along become more and more important – north of Ibar. That issue becomes more and more important of how it exists today versus few years ago.
As final status becomes closer, while the resolution of status is continuing, this status quo (in the north) is no longer satisfactory so I spent a lot of time with Deputy Prime Minister (Lutfi Haziri), the Contact Group and I think it is very important that we start to describe the framework whatever the result of the final status. This framework is a transitional period north of the Ibar, perhaps separate municipality mayors from north Mitrovica, south Mitrovica and then international community still sits on top of that for a short period of time, 3 to 4 years, so that this part becomes better integrated into results of final status.
So I think it is very important we start describing this in a very responsible way so that it counters the political rhetoric of some of the leaders from the north.
Do you think a special UN mission will be installed in the north?
I wouldn’t call it a special UN or EU mission but a generic international community mission. International community would sit on top of that for a period of time to transition it into the local institutions however that’s described in the final status. I’m very careful to say that way because I don’t know what the final status is going to be, it’s not my decision, I participated in it time to time. I don’t fully know how this whole thing will look like but everyone understands that north of Ibar is significantly different than the south of Ibar. It’s been different for several years, this is the reality. As we get closer to the recommendation or decision by UNOSEK, I think it is very important to address in a responsible way the future. We’ve done a lot of things up here recently. We have some high-impact projects that will be working in the both sides of Ibar. We need to fix some things that deal with infrastructure issues. We have many international police there, up to 500 international police north of Ibar. We’ve got a lot of Kosovo Serb KPS up there. We’re making some fundamental changes in two border points, Gate 1 and Gate 31. I’m paying attention to that part because I am very concerned over some very irresponsible statements made by some of the appointed leadership north of Ibar.
When you spoke about the possibility of a new mission in the north, is the Negotiations Team aware of this?
Yes. I spoke to the Deputy Prime Minister. We had a good conversation on that. Look, it is time to lay out a framework. I’m not going to go into details. But, the framework is this: there will be some international presence that will sit on top of Mitrovica, it will be there for a transitional period, definite period of time. This is an important message because whatever the final status is, there is not this huge, abrupt, immediate change with the present situation we have in the north.
When I was in a visit in the north what I said is that one of the most terrible decisions ever influenced by Belgrade was the non-participation in the elections and as a consequence there are no responsible elected political leaders that would represent all the people. This has been a terrible mistake. They not only did not take part in the current governing structures, but the biggest problem now is that it is difficult to influence changes there, because you will have to deal with appointed leaders, very irresponsible: CCK and Milan Ivanovic.
I would rather deal with elected officials, with their agendas, their wishes, who are there to serve the people in the northern part of Ibar, without personal benefits and without personal agendas.
The reason I mentioned my visit there is that the entire rhetoric and all the energy of the appointed leadership in the north has to do with things completely separate from the needs and wishes of the people living there. This is a mistake, irresponsibility, and it should be improved.
Are there Albanian KPS members in the northern part of Kosovo?
There are in the cross-border areas, but not much in the police patrolling. Police patrolling is mainly carried out by Serbian KPS officers. I discussed this also with some war veterans’ groups in Kosovo. I explained to them that for me it makes sense that one of the lessons learned in the history of policing is that the best police patrols are carried out when police officers belong to that community. For me this is not any problem.
In its statement after the meeting of the ‘elephants’ the Contact Group stated that they are concerned over the situation in the north, with increase of Serbian illegal security structures, are you too concerned with what is happening in the north?
I am not sure that something is increasing there. What I am sure about is that there is an increase in political rhetoric and that some positions are being taken. This is causing a big concern. In June there was a huge setback because of some poor politicians.
The bully tactics from some people to pull the municipality leaders and influence some of their decisions are irresponsible.
I was recently there. It was my second or third trip there. I will soon go there again when I am back from New York (UN) and US. When I was last there I made a tour and talked to the kids in the pools, old people, mother, grandmothers, sons and daughters, I talked to men working in Leposavic, Zvecan…I asked all those I met which was their main concern in the northern part beyond Ibar and the answers I got were; employment, economic development not good, problems with infrastructure, sewage, electricity…No one, not a single one told me it is security.
How is Belgrade behaving with Serbs at this time?
I think that Belgrade can do much more. I would put Belgrade in this category; in my opinion Belgrade has possibilities and responsibilities to find responsible leaders in the northern part and instruct them not to do what they are doing now and to return to the situation before June’s statements. I do not know if Belgrade stands behind these actions, but Belgrade can correct and improve these actions. Therefore, in my opinion, Belgrade is responsible for what is happening there.
Is the international presence in a position to face with the situation if these leaders call on people to go out on the street and protest, demonstrate because they are not happy with the status process? If they take action that leads towards internal division of Kosovo?
There are two kinds of answers about this. First, KFOR is still here to maintain security and stability. So if there are actions that stir the calm and safe environment it should be counted on KFOR to be part of the solution. Second, I am doing my best to encourage Belgrade to help with these appointed leaders. I have been there often and I will go often. I think that UNMIK is doing a lot for this not to happen.
Have you responded to the letter by Prime Minister asking for more competencies?
Yes, I gave the letter with UNMIK’s answers in Friday’s meeting.
What competencies are mentioned there?
I think you should ask Prime Minister Çeku. It was his request. We answered in a responsible way to these requests.
Did you answer positively?
For most of the things he asked we offered the way on how to move forward and what should be done. Most of the things in his request, with a few exceptions, are really budgetary and fiscal issues that need to be solved. As you know there is a fixed budget in the Kosovo Consolidated Budget, if we add new competencies, new requests, then we have to direct them to other sources. This will mean that there will be decisions taken at the highest level of Government as to the way to relocate the funds within the current budget. This means there should be the consent of IMF which still plays a key role in determining a responsible budget and the expenditure way. Therefore we have adopted steps to be taken to address some of their requests.