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UN: Kosovar Albanians Maintain Pressure For More Local Powers

  • Robert McMahon

Kosovar Albanian attempts to assume more powers over local affairs come at a time when the United Nations is trying to revive its process for implementing reforms in the province. Yesterday, the chief UN official in Kosovo rejected the local parliamentary assembly's constitutional changes, which included the right to call a referendum on independence from Serbia. Top UN officials and the Security Council have signaled they want to find a more effective way to devolve power from the five-year-old UN administration in Kosovo to local authorities.

United Nations, 9 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Kosovar assembly's latest challenge to UN authority comes as UN experts are seeking new ways of handing over responsibility to bodies run by majority ethnic Albanians.

A special UN envoy, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, is expected to report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan by the end of the month on his mission to the province in June. Eide was assigned to investigate the causes of the severe ethnic clashes in March and recommend ways to improve co-existence between Serbs and Albanians.

His recommendations could lead to formal action by the UN Security Council affecting the handover of power from the UN administration running Kosovo to provincial authorities. But UN officials have said they do not expect fundamental changes to the reform process, which calls for improvements in the treatment of minorities before discussions on final status.

The acting head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Charles Brayshaw, said yesterday’s moves by the Kosovar assembly were beyond its authority. He said such actions divert "time and energy" from reforms needed before the final status review set for mid-2005.

The assembly's moves included the adoption of amendments to the Constitutional Framework that would transfer control over international relations and public security from the UN to local authorities. To become law, such acts must be signed by Brayshaw.
"Kosovar Albanians have been very aggressive of late in their pursuit of what could best be described as an independence agenda." -- former UN administrator


William Nash is a former regional UN administrator in Kosovo and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based policy institute. Nash told RFE/RL that ethnic Albanian authorities have still not proven they are capable of properly governing all residents of the province.

"Kosovar Albanians have been very aggressive of late in their pursuit of what could best be described as an independence agenda. And that [agenda], while understandable, fails to take into account the failure of the same Kosovar leadership to provide the requisite security for all the citizens of Kosovo, most specifically the minorities," Nash said.

Nash also faulted Serbian leaders for operating parallel structures in the province. He said any new formula for devolving power in Kosovo will depend on the emergence of responsible local leaders. "You have to look for responsible leaders within the Kosovo community, both Albanian and Serb, and they have to start from the viewpoint that anybody that wants to presume a leadership role within Kosovo has to accept responsibility for leadership of all the citizens, not just the ethnic group that they individually might be associated with," he said.

The previous UN administrator of Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, tried to spur dialogue between the two sides for more than nine months. But he saw his efforts undermined by the eruption of violence in March. Holkeri stepped down for health reasons in May. His replacement, Danish diplomat Soren Jessen-Petersen, is due to take up his post early next month.

The UN Security Council has repeatedly called on provisional Albanian leaders to respect minority rights. But the Security Council has also noted inadequacies with the transfer of power. It issued a statement in April calling on Annan to propose new institutional arrangements for devolving authority to provisional bodies. The pending report from Eide should contain such proposals.

Romania's UN ambassador, Mihnea Motoc, who is the current Security Council president, told RFE/RL that he supports the "standards-before-status" policy. He says that, if followed properly, it can ensure stability in Kosovo. But prior to the March disturbances, he said, Security Council members might have been premature in gauging its effectiveness.

"I think the international community was very confident in the validity of standards-before-status policy, the implementation of standards. It was good enough indication that things are moving. Therefore, an eruption of violence was almost overlooked. It was a cold shower -- a reality check," Motoc said.

Annan has called the attack by Kosovar Albanian extremists against the Serbian, Romany, and Ashkali communities of Kosovo an "organized, widespread, and targeted campaign."

At least 3,000 people, mostly Serbs, were driven from their homes or had to evacuate them during two days of riots and attacks starting on 17 March. The violence followed the drowning deaths of two Albanian children a day earlier. The body of a third child who drowned in the same incident was found in June.
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