RFE/RL: Mr. Ruecker, Kosova is entering next year with high expectations on resolving the status issue. When do you think this will happen?
Joachim Ruecker: I have full trust in what I would call Ahtisaari process, lead by the [UN] special envoy Martti Ahtisaari that will come to a solution of the final-status issue. As you know, Martti Ahtisaari will present his package, his proposal, right after the Serbian elections [on January 21]. Then I understand, but of course he is in charge of the process, this will be consulted with the parties and after this will be after a reasonably short period, sent on to New York. I expect that the [UN] Security Council will deal with this in [the] spring.
RFE/RL: According to some analysts, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal may not define precisely what the status will be, and as such, it will be left to the international community to decide whether they are going to accept this proposal. How do you see this issue?
Ruecker: I usually do not want to speculate on what exactly is the further process once this has reached the Security Council. I trust that the package in its content is so compelling, that the Security Council will also accept the logic. I think that what Martti Ahtisaari puts on the table will be acceptable to all sides.
RFE/RL: In one of his latest statements, Mr. Ahtisaari said that Kosova's status would enable it to have access to international financial institutions. What about the access to international political institutions or bodies?
Ruecker: Again, we are deeply now engaged in speculating about the content of the package and I think in rough terms we know what is in there with regards to decentralization, cultural heritage, with regards to minority protection mechanisms, and with regard to the economic chapter. But in detail, we will have to wait until the end of January and as far as international organizations go, I think that it is a matter of application and being granted membership, whatever international organization we talk about.
RFE/RL: If delayed any further, the leadership in Kosova has mentioned the possibility of making a unilateral decision on Kosova's political status. What is your stand on this?
Ruecker: Any illusion [on taking] unilateral steps is certainly counterproductive. Kosovo needs the international community in solving the status.
RFE/RL: You have emphasized that the reforms of local government, foreseen by decentralization are intended to lead to better integration of minority communities into Kosova's society, not division. In this regard, do you believe that decentralization will help resolving the difficulties and the problems that northern Kosova is facing?
Ruecker: Yes, I think it will be a very good and a big contribution to keeping the political cohesion in Kosovo. Actually, you have good experiences with decentralization, which is about increased local self-governance. In other parts of the world, for example in my home country in Germany, we have a long tradition of [a] high degree of local self-governance, which is helping the cohesion of the country and I expect a similar thing in Kosovo.
RFE/RL: And how do you see Mitrovica in the future, united or divided?
Ruecker: Two things: that Mitrovica North and Mitrovica South belong together, and I expect that there is [going to be] some sort of umbrella over the two parts of the city, even after the status [decision].
RFE/RL: As UN mission chief, what are the difficulties you have faced so far in bringing together the Albanian and the Serbian communities?
Ruecker: I think the single biggest problem is the fact that Belgrade is hindering the Kosovo Serbs from integrating into the institutions, into Kosovo's political and economic life. I know that many of Kosovo's Serbs are concerned about their future; they know that their future is here in Kosovo, in a democratic and multiethnic Kosovo and they would like to engage. So I think it is right that the international community, UNMIK, and the others are appealing to Belgrade to remove the obstacles for Kosovo's Serbs.
RFE/RL: Mr. Ruecker the UN mission and Kosova's institutions are now very much engaged in preparing the post-status arrangements. What are these arrangements about?
Ruecker: Well, this is in very practical terms, we need to prepare for the UNMIK's responsibility to be handed over, to be transferred to the local authorities into all different aspects, and to a minor degree also to the future international civilian mission or office.
This needs preparation. For example, when you look at the legal basis on which we stand, the different laws, regulations, administration's directions. All of them will have to be scanned and we have to make sure that either they are amended to fit the post-status era, or they are renewed, maybe we need to have new laws, new regulations here or there. All of this needs to be done in a very professional and intelligent way, also with regard to the preparedness of different ministries to really take on the residual responsibilities that UNMIK still has at this time. I think that is also very important.
Also there is also a process going on which is driven by the assembly and the unity team, a drafting of a new constitution, a drafting [of] an election law. All of this has to be ready.
RFE/RL: You are expected to present your report on Kosova's implementations of standards at the Security Council meeting on Kosova, on December 13. What will be the focus of your report?
Ruecker: This is a quarterly report, which we are giving to the Security Council on the implementation of standards. So the focus is naturally on the eight standards, on the substandards and is also on the 13 special tasks in connection with the standards, that the Contact Group has given to the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, and my general assessment will be that there has been progress and so it will be basically a positive assessment.
I think we need more progress on the rule of law, judiciary, in particular if you look at the bad lock of cases with the courts for example, we need to do even more with regard to the minority communities, to make them feel totally integrated in Kosovo. I know I have said it before, we need Belgrade for that, it's a two-way street. The extended hand also has to be taken, but nevertheless there is also progress needed there.
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of developments in the disputed region of KOSOVO, click here.