Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Future of Kosovo in question Independence likely, but only in name

Nicholas Wood
International Herald Tribune
887 words
1 November 2006
International Herald Tribune
© 2006 International Herald Tribune. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.
All expectations are that, in the next few months, Kosovo will claim an internationally sanctioned independence, concluding a titanic struggle by the United Nations and Western governments to close a chapter that began with its bloody ethnic war. But it is unlikely to be the conclusion the United Nations hoped for, after having invested seven years supervising the enclave at a cost of about $1.3 billion a year. That is because it seems increasingly evident that the West will need to retain far greater responsibilities than it wanted.

The outlook has changed with the failure of both the Albanian and Serbian sides to reach an agreement in nine months of negotiations, in particular since the Serbs are refusing to recognize Albanian- dominated institutions in what has been a territory dear to their religious and cultural heritage. The negotiations are dragging on, raising the likelihood that a solution will be imposed. That would end a process that began with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago, which led to wars in Croatia, Bosnia and, finally, Kosovo. For Western Europe, the wish has always been that resolving Kosovo, the last of the three problem areas, would end the risk of violent disputes over borders and alleviate the need to have a heavy international presence both in troops and in civil administration on the ground. Planning is already under way for a European Union- led mission to take over from the UN.

"Everybody is anxious to solve this," said Joachim Rucker, head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. "It is the last bit of the Balkan puzzle."

The political calendar in Serbia leaves unclear exactly when a resolution might come: possibly next year, after Serbian elections, although the Americans are eager to conclude things without delay. The Americans are not heavily invested in Kosovo but would be expected to pay some of costs of establishing a more independent state. Whatever the timing, it seems that foreign officials will retain extensive powers for some time to come, UN and EU officials here say. With high levels of poverty in Kosovo, the financial costs may continue to be substantial. "I think the EU is going to be in for a bit of a shock," said Anthony Welch, coordinator of a UN- commissioned review of Kosovo's future security needs. "I think their role is going to have to be a little more hands-on. And it is going to cost a lot."

Kosovo has remained under UN control since the province was prized away in June 1999 from Yugoslav security forces accused of committing atrocities against the majority Albanian population. Its sovereignty remains in limbo: While Kosovo is formally part of Serbia, the six nations overseeing the negotiations on its future say it cannot return to Belgrade's rule. At this point, the parameters of an imposed settlement are clear, according to officials responsible for planning the succession to the UN mission. With Russia openly opposed to Kosovo's independence Moscow says that would set a precedent for other breakaway states officials say it is unlikely that a UN resolution will grant the province full statehood. Instead a resolution may allow other countries to recognize Kosovo as they wish. "The Security Council would issue a mandate for a mission led by the European Union, and invite individual countries to recognize Kosovo," Welch said. Kosovo would not have a seat in the UN General Assembly, a key Serbian wish. The European Union says it is eager not to duplicate the overarching powers and cumbersome bureaucracy the UN had in Kosovo, which at one stage totaled 11,000 people and included international police officers a presence that has been a source of tension with the majority Albanian population. EU officials say their new mission will have a substantially reduced level. The new office, headed by an international civilian representative, will have limited powers. It could dismiss local politicians, or annul laws, but only if they were deemed to be interfering with the peace settlement. Those powers would be reviewed at yearly intervals. "We will be limited in scope and in power, because we believe the philosophy has to be one of ownership and accountability," said Torbjorn Sohlstrom, head of the small team of EU officials setting up the mission that will take over for the UN.

The EU's principal role would be to put into place the UN- sanctioned peace settlement, much of which is likely to focus on the ethnic Albanian-dominated government's provision for minorities. Decentralization would grant the Serbian municipal authorities in Kosovo a substantial say over their own affairs. But Serbian opposition to the international community's plans might require a more heavy-handed approach, perhaps even forcing the EU office to appoint representatives if the Serbs refused to elect their own. That role would continue as long as the Serbs' leader refused to recognize Kosovo's institutions, Sohlstrom said.

"Status implementation will depend on the level of cooperation by the Kosovar Serbs," he said. With European Union enthusiasm for its further enlargement put on hold, the prospect of a greater European responsibility in Kosovo is unlikely to be welcomed in the bloc's capitals.

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