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Kosovo: Standards Undergo New Round Of High-Level Scrutiny

UN peacekeepers during the March 2004 riots Nearly one year after postwar Kosovo’s worst outbreak of ethnic violence, a top UN official will brief EU and UN Security Council officials on how local Albanian-run institutions are progressing. The meetings on 21 and 24 February are expected to provide signals on how countries crucial to the final-status decision on Kosovo assess developments ahead of a major review of reforms this summer. A report released just before UN administrator in Kosovo Soren Jessen-Petersen’s visit warns of a growing ethnic divide between majority Albanians and minority Serbs. But it also praises the performance of newly elected Kosovar leaders.

United Nations, 21 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- UN administrator in Kosovo Soren Jessen-Petersen is expected to tell representatives in Brussels and New York about a growing political maturity in Kosovar Albanian-led institutions as well as deep rifts which have impeded minority rights.

The UN last week released Jessen-Petersen’s most detailed report yet on the list of reforms set for Kosovo such as the protection of minorities, rule of law, and human rights issues. He cited uneven progress and said none of the standards have yet been fulfilled.

It thus remains too early to tell whether the review of Kosovo’s standards process scheduled for this summer will be positive enough to trigger discussions over the province’s status. But at a time when the Security Council and key European states are taking stock after the March 2004 riots, Jessen-Petersen will likely point to some improvements.

He has praised the recent visit to Kosovo of Serbian President Boris Tadic, although Tadic reaffirmed Serbia’s dominion over Kosovo and declined to meet ethnic Albanian leaders. UN spokeswoman Hua Jiang told RFE/RL that Jessen-Petersen was especially encouraged by the performance of Kosovo security forces.

“He believes that through this visit Kosovo showed it was a rapidly maturing society and responsible society and he was very happy with the security arrangements and he was particularly impressed with the performance of the local police,” Hua said.

The UN report released last week notes there has been no serious interethnic crime in Kosovo since last June, which it says points to the growing effectiveness of local law-enforcement bodies.

It said the new provisional government has made a push to deliver progress on standards implementation, saying new Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has shown an “outstanding personal commitment” to the process. A ministry of returns and migration has been established. An independent tax and customs review board has started work.

But the UN administration, which holds ultimate authority in Kosovo, also reports problems in freedom of movement for minorities, high levels of minority unemployment in the public sector, inadequate translation of documents into official languages, and deep security concerns among Kosovar Serbs.
Anderson said the general security situation may be more precarious than the UN report indicates.

Alex Anderson is Kosovo project director for the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental conflict-prevention organization. The Pristina-based Anderson told RFE/RL that Jessen-Petersen’s report is consistent with what he has seen in Kosovo.

“Basically this is a very upbeat assessment of the prime minister, almost an ecstatic assessment of the prime minister, but showing also the considerable problems that come from the inertia of many municipal authorities and also pointing the finger very much at Belgrade for failures in regard to bringing minorities on board,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the general security situation may be more precarious than the UN report indicates. The situation could rapidly deteriorate, he said, if the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague decides to indict Prime Minister Haradinaj for his actions as a former Kosovo Liberation Army commander.

The crisis group last month issued a report saying that independence is the only solution for the province and it must come soon if conditions are met. It provides a timeline that would lead to an internationally recognized Kosovo by
the middle of next year.

Anderson acknowledges that the Security Council and international Contact Group for Kosovo are unlikely to meet such a schedule but he does see some progress. “We won’t see the international community move as fast as we want to but we are beginning to see the putting together of a policy and some sort of consensus which is working towards building a timeline, maybe rather longer than we would want but certainly not a million miles away from what we’re suggesting,” he said.

There was general agreement among members of the Contact Group that after the violence last March there was a need for revisions in the standards process. Group members have supported recommendations calling for a focus on reforms related to minorities and moving forward on consideration of status.

But there is also concern about the impact a quick decision on Kosovo could have on regional security.

Albania’s UN ambassador, Agim Nesho, whose country supports independence for Kosovo, told RFE/RL a decision this year could calm rather than inflame tensions in the region. “It’s a necessity that the international community this year come to a decision that they will not only open the discussion about the future status of Kosovo but [come] to a conclusion on the future status of Kosovo and that must be very clear,” Nesho said.

Security Council diplomats this year have given no indication on whether the council would be ready to open status talks this year, saying the review process was still under way.