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UN: New Envoy Says 'Uphill Battle' Ahead In Democratizing Kosovo

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 30 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations' new special envoy in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, says he faces an "uphill battle" in trying to transform the province into a democratic society, but that the task is achievable.

Holkeri told reporters at the UN yesterday that he is committed to the "standards-before-status" policy requiring Kosovo's mainly Albanian institutions of self-government to achieve reform benchmarks. "The future status is very much dependent on how we are going to succeed with the benchmarking," Holkeri said. "We need the results on that area first. The sooner we can see improvement on that side, the sooner we can ask the Security Council to open the discussion [on status]."

Holkeri was expected today to address the Security Council for the first time to provide a progress report on the benchmarking program begun under his predecessor, Michael Steiner.

Holkeri, a former Finnish prime minister, will discuss a new plan to set clear timelines and success criteria for reform in Kosovar institutions. One of those benchmarks was establishing high-level dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade.

The two sides held their first meeting on 14 October, although some key figures on both sides were absent and little real dialogue took place. But Holkeri said the meeting helped lay the groundwork for lower-level talks on practical issues. "The main thing was that the meeting took place, and we had the opportunity to launch the basic idea," Holkeri said. "And now the working groups on four already-decided areas, I hope, will start next month."

The four areas include discussion on the return of about 200,000 Kosovar Serbs to the province, cooperation on the issue of nearly 3,700 missing ethnic Albanians, and subjects such as energy, transport, and communications.

Holkeri said he wants the UN Mission in Kosovo to be a partner with the ethnic Albanian-led provisional government in helping it democratize and establish a free press, free speech, rule of law, and other standards.

But he acknowledges the difficulties ahead. He noted that on his first day in the province in August, unknown gunmen shot and killed two Kosovar Serb boys, in what appeared, he said, to be a message directed at him. "The way of Kosovo is not rosy at all, and for my part, I think it will be an uphill battle," Holkeri said. "But Kosovo is not -- is not -- a mission impossible, as it has been regarded sometimes."

He said that despite disturbing incidents of ethnic violence, overall crime figures continue to decline. He said there are plans for the reduction in the numbers of both UN police -- now totaling about 3,700 -- and some NATO-led forces patrolling the province. He did not provide any figures but noted that the Kosovo Police Service now has more than 5,700 active members, 15 percent of whom are ethnic minorities.

Holkeri said that at today's Security Council meeting he will urge the international community to stay engaged in Kosovo's political affairs.