Prague, 30 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign ministers of the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will meet in Oslo on Wednesday and Thursday (Dec. 2 & 3) for their annual meeting. Beginning January 1, Norway takes over the OSCE chairmanship for a year.
The ministers will assess the OSCE's work during the past year and consider issues relevant to its future. Special attention will be focused on the organization's Kosovo Verification Mission, with the ministers evaluating the situation in Serbia' southern province and examining progress so far in setting up the mission.
The OSCE plans to have 2,000 unarmed monitors drawn from its member states in Kosovo by late January. The mission follows an agreement signed last month between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on ending a Serb crackdown in Kosovo. The agreement was reached under threat of NATO airstrikes.
The monitors will seek to verify an end to hostilities by all parties --Serbs and ethnic Albanian Kosovars-- and to report both instances of progress and non-compliance. The OSCE monitors are also responsible for supervising elections in Kosovo to ensure openness and fairness in accordance with internationally recognized regulations and procedures.
Just months before the Serb crackdown began in Kosovo in late February, the OSCE was already expressing what it called "profound concern" over rising tensions there. The conflicting parties were urged to engage in constructive dialogue in order to find political solutions. Meeting in Copenhagen late last year, OSCE ministers also called on Yugoslavia, comprising Montenegro as well as Serbia, to cooperate with the personal representative of the Chairman-in-office for Kosovo, Max van der Stoel.
Van der Stoel, a former Dutch diplomat who is OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities, is due to update ministers on the progress of the mission with a statement this week.
The Oslo meeting will also review progress on a charter on European security in the next century. The ministers' discussions will touch on the OSCE's role in conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation. In addition, they are due to examine how the organization's operational capabilities can be enhanced.
This week's agenda will also cover both regional issues and new threats to European security. One regional issue likely to be at the fore of debate is the ongoing dispute over forging a lasting peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave of Azerbaijan, populated largely by ethnic Armenians. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, whose country currently holds the rotating OSCE Chairmanship, toured the Caucuses region last week. He was said to have tried to persuade Azerbaijan to take a more positive approach to new OSCE proposals for re-starting talks with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The new proposals from the organization's Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the U.S., call for Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh to form what is called a "common state." Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian has called the proposals a "major improvement" over previous initiatives. But Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev rejected the new plan, expressing what he called "regret" they were ever put forth. Aliyev said the plan would amount to recognizing the enclave's independence.
An OSCE spokesman last week said that the organization still hopes something can be salvaged from the plan and that a resumption of talks on Nagorno-Karabakh could be announced in Oslo.
Meanwhile, this year's ministerial meeting could also hear debate over other conflicts and disputes, including ones in Bosnia, Albania, Moldova, Georgia, Tajikistan and Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Political developments in Belarus, an OSCE member, are another likely topic. Belarus has said it will send a top-level delegation to the Oslo meeting, led by the country's Foreign Minister, Ivan Antonovich. According to Belarus Deputy Foreign Minister Nine Maze, the ongoing dispute over diplomatic housing in Minsk will be discussed when Antonovich holds talks with his Western counterparts.