A new, power-sharing administrative council was established in Kosovo yesterday that resolves the competition between UN and Kosovar Albanian power structures. Composed of four UN officials and three local Albanian leaders, the council formally takes the place of previous, unofficial local government structures. A fourth seat, reserved for a Serbian representative, remains unfilled, as Kosovo's Serbs have rejected the new council as a step toward independence for the province. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports.
Prague, 16 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The new governing body created yesterday by the United Nations and local Kosovar Albanian leaders is designed to bring more political stability to the province.
Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN administration in Kosovo, remains in charge. But now a new Administrative Council, made up of four UN officials and three Albanian representatives, will propose policy and legislation for 14 departments including finance, commerce, education, justice and health. Defense and security matters will still be handled by NATO peacekeepers and UNMIK officers.
At a press conference after the signing of the agreement, Kouchner said it was "a breakthrough" and signified a "historical moment for Kosovo."
The deal gives Kosovars an executive role in governing the province. In signing the agreement, the three Kosovar Albanian leaders -- Hashim Thaci, former political head of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosovo, and Rexhep Qosja of the United Democratic Movement -- agreed to disband their alternative governments and integrate their staff into the new administration.
Susan Manuel, a spokesperson for the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said that the deal will dismantle the unofficial parallel structures run by local Albanians that have interfered with the progress of stabilizing the province.
"One of the problems here, one of the main problems that we've had at the UN, is the existence of these parallel structures of Kosovo Albanian political parties, primarily Mr. Thaci's political party. We're running alongside or behind them. The UN needs to basically dissolve these structures and work with the Kosovo Albanian political parties. And that's one of the reasons he (Kouchner) was really pushing to get this agreement out as soon as possible."
Manuel says that the deal puts Kosovo on the path to a greater autonomy and will possibly pave the way for future talks on independence for the province.
"The Kosovars, all, in announcing the agreement, all called this steps on the way to independence. And all of their party platforms are independence and nothing short of that. We are operating under the mandate given to us by the Security Council, which does not mention the word independence. It talks about autonomy within the country of Yugoslavia. It sort leaves open the possibility of talks on Kosovo's status sometime in the future. But this is quite and completely in line with our mandate, which is autonomy, which is something like what the Kosovars had before 1989."
A fourth seat has been reserved for a local Serb. But local Serbian leaders have rejected the offer, saying that they were not included in the initial negotiating process.
In an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic service, Momcilo Trajkovic, a former Serbian leader on Kosovo's transitional council, says that the UN did not consult with the Serbs at all, but in his words, "created a distorted formation isolating us from the council."
"He (Kouchner) is clearly setting the parameters for Kosovo's independence. He is trying to correct certain errors, but it is clear that he is supporting separatism, and in that way he is finally showing his true face. I really think the international community should take a look at Mr. Kouchner's activities right away if it wants to avoid a catastrophic crisis which is radicalizing Thaci in Kosovo."
Serbs were not included in the negotiating process, says Manuel, because the UN had enough difficulty in getting the three Albanian leaders to come to an agreement.
"They were consulted about this, but more or less independently of the negotiations that went on between Dr. Kouchner and the Rambouillet parties. They weren't totally cut out, they were kept informed. But they were not in the key negotiations that led to this structure. To get 25 percent of the seats is more than their number is represented here right now."
Ethnic Serbs left the province in large numbers after the arrival of NATO-led peacekeeping forces. Thousands still remain, but they have withdrawn into their own ethnic enclaves for safety. They say the UN has ignored their political and security needs.
Albanian leaders say that the deal will curtail the criminal and ethnic violence and speed the establishment of law and order in the province. Speaking at a press conference in Pristina yesterday, Rexhep Qosja of the United Democratic Movement said that the agreement is a step towards establishing a civil society in Kosovo.
"Creating the unified structure will give us responsibility on decisions on the main events in Kosovo. We cannot accept or hope that we will solve at this moment all the problems, but starting today we will work together towards a democratic Kosovo, a democratic tolerance prosperous country in which all citizens will live together."
Despite Qosja's rousing support for the new council, it remains to be seen how cooperative local Albanian leaders will be. After Qosja spoke, Rugova took the stand and said that he will still remain president of Kosovo -- a direct violation of the agreement.
"This agreement is good for Kosovo, and it's valid until the next election. It's the best way to solve the problems in Kosovo. But my function's valid until new elections."
Thaci quickly criticized Rugova's statement, accusing him of undermining the basic principles of the deal, which stipulate that local leaders must abandon previous government structures and titles.
"According to what Rugova said, this agreement was valid for only three minutes. At the moment when we signed the agreement, Kosovo does not have a president or a prime minister. I am able to understand the will of Rugova, but he must respect the agreement signed three minutes ago."
The move to establish the council was in the works for months, with Kouchner pushing hard on local leaders to overcome their political disputes. The UN says it is hopeful that Serbs will soon join the ranks, and that under the UN's tutelage, locals will learn how to effectively govern the unruly province. But if yesterday's political digs were any indication, the council has a long way to go.