Pro-independence graffiti on a wall in Prishtina (file photo) (epa)
4 January 2006 -- The newly-appointed ombudsman for Kosovo is urging the province to meet international standards for human rights in 2006.
Hilmi Jashari, appointed ombudsman by the United Nations last month, said today in Prishtina that Kosovo's new legal system meets all the international standards but its implementation remains a key challenge. This will be his main priority in the coming year, he said.
The UN has administered Kosovo since June 1999 when NATO air strikes chased Serbian forces from the province.
Discussions to determine Kosovo's future status are underway. The majority ethnic-Albanian population is seeking greater autonomy, and ultimately independence, from Belgrade but the region is still officially considered to be a province of Serbia and Montenegro.
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.
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