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Balkan Report: January 9, 2008

EU Foresees 'Less Than Total' Independence For Kosovo

By Ahto Lobjakas

Slovenia's Janez Jansa says that Kosovo's heavy dependence on EU assistance means it cannot be 'totally independent' (file)

LJUBLJANA -- The European Union is trying to steer Kosovo away from full independence.

Instead, it wants supervisory powers in return for financial aid and a 2,000-strong assistance mission of legal experts and law enforcement agents.

Speaking to journalists in Ljubljana, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa -- whose country holds the EU Presidency for the next six months -- said on January 7 that Kosovo will not have "total independence." He added that such a European mission wouldn't be sent to a "totally independent country, [a] sovereign country."

Kosovo's security will remain heavily dependent on 16,000 NATO troops in the province.

Jansa indicated the EU will seek to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement, which can be a precursor to EU membership, with both Serbia and Kosovo. Dangling such a scenario before Kosovo could be seen as an EU attempt to lure Kosovo away from seeking full-fledged independence.

Several EU member states have reservations about Kosovo's independence. Cyprus, in particular, fears a precedent will be set allowing its own northern Turkish community to secede.

Jansa said EU unanimity is needed only for the establishment of contractual relations between Kosovo and the EU, a development that is not likely to materialize in the immediate future. Abstentions within the EU will not, on the other hand, deter it from providing assistance to Kosovo.

All EU member states agree that Kosovo's current status as a Serbian province is not sustainable. Jansa said his own experience as a pro-democracy campaigner in what was Yugoslavia 20 years ago suggests it is "obvious" there cannot be a solution that satisfies both Serbia and Kosovo. Therefore, he said, the EU is now "looking for the second-best solution."

This solution will have to be found quickly, Jansa warned, or stability in the region will be at risk.

Jansa offered no clear views on how the EU expects to mollify Serbia, which has left no doubt it will not acquiesce to the loss of Kosovo. He said Serbia's intransigence is not "in the interests of the Serbian people," and that the choice, "which was artificially made by some politicians in Serbia," of "Kosovo or the European Union" is a "real alternative."

Jansa appeared to offer a conflicting set of predictions when quizzed on Serbia. On the one hand, he noted it would take a generational change before the Serbian public could accept the loss of Kosovo. On the other hand, Jansa said tough talk was a Balkan specialty and does not preclude quick changes of position. He predicted that "after a year's time, the situation could be quite different -- maybe not among the Serbian elites, but among the people."

Jansa noted that no conceivable solution will immediately guarantee stability in the region and warned of a "period of turbulence" in the course of which the EU will need to be "very sensitive and very strong."

Looking ahead, Jansa said the fate of ethnically divided Bosnia-Herzegovina will prove a "more serious problem" than Kosovo. He said the 1995 Dayton peace accord produced only one result -- the cessation of hostilities. All other goals have remained unattainable, Jansa said, adding the effect of the accord will need to be "reassessed." This is likely to take place during the EU's Czech presidency in the first half of 2009.

UN Security Council Offers Little Suspense On Kosovo

By Nikola Krastev

A defiant map emphasizing Kosovo as part of Serbia adorns a bus in Belgrade

UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council's final session of the year on Kosovo has concluded without agreement and, judging by the comments of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu, Belgrade and Pristina remain as far apart as ever.

The Kosovar president told Security Council members that independence is the only option for his people, and that "the positions of Serbia and Kosovo remain fundamentally irreconcilable."

For his part, Prime Minister Kostunica said Belgrade will use all means short of military force to prevent Kosovo from declaring independence unilaterally. He said it made no difference that the EU and United States would support Kosovo's declaration. "There is no difference if something is illegal and is done by one country or few countries in coordinating manner -- it remains illegal," Kostunica said. "So there is no difference between unilateral declaration of independence and coordinated declaration of independence of Kosovo. It's very simple."

The Serbian leader added that "Serbia will proclaim any such decision from the point of the UN Charter -- and Serbia appears to be in this case guardian of the UN Charter -- compared to the countries that are violating the UN Charter." He insisted that only the Security Council can resolve the Kosovo issue, and all attempts to bypass it must be considered a violation of the international law.

But Sir John Sawers, the British ambassador to the UN, said the stalement as the December 19 session closed proved that a final settlement plan for the breakaway province cannot be resolved in the Security Council. He said two years of intensive efforts have failed to breach the gap between the two sides. Indeed, he said, even the status-neutral agreement by the Kosovo "troika" -- the EU, Russia, and the United States -- has been firmly rejected by Belgrade.

"The time has come, in the United Kingdom's view, for us now to take the necessary action to resolve the status of Kosovo," Sawers said. "We would have preferred to do that through the Security Council, but we are entirely confident that [Security Council] Resolution 1244 provides a sufficient legal base to move forward to a final settlement to establish the necessary authorities needed to achieve that."

Drifting Toward Ahtisaari Plan

Sawers said that affirmation of EU special envoy Marrti Ahtisaari's plan, which recommends supervised independence for Kosovo, is the best way forward. Kosovo's Sejdiu agreed that the Ahtisaari plan "provides a solid basis for us moving forward" and vowed that Kosovo would cooperate with NATO and the UN and "continue to hold out the hand of friendship to Serbia."

"I did call on our Russian colleague, Ambassador Churkin, one final time, to embrace the Ahtisaari plan as the sensible way forward with council endorsement," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said after the session, "but if he does not change that position, the United States, Europeans, and others are determined to move forward with the implementation of that plan."

Speaking for the European members of the Security Council (France, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, and Germany), Johan Verbeke, Belgium's ambassador to the UN, agreed that the final debate confirmed that the differences between the two sides remain "irreconcilable" on the fundamental question of sovereignty. "It is clear in our view that more negotiations in this or any other format will not make a difference," Verbeke said. "We therefore endorse the view of the European Union and U.S. negotiators in the 'troika' that the potential for negotiated solution is now exhausted."

The status quo is unsustainable, Verbeke said, and a continuing international presence in Kosovo is needed to guarantee the stability of the region. The EU stands ready to play a leading role in implementing a settlement defining the future status, he said.

Verbeke stressed the view, held by both the EU and United States, that resolving Kosovo's status will not set a precedent. But Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, disagreed. "Especially you working in this building [the UN Secretariat], I am sure you can feel palpably how much concern the possibility of the Kosovo precedent and spreading throughout this building and throughout the membership of the United Nations," Churkin warned. "So this is our belief that, unfortunately, if things were to get out of the legal channel, and if things go in the direction of unilateral moves, that will send a shockwave to the international system and international law."

Churkin added that he felt "very optimistic" after the last day's discussions and said he was not alone in that feeling. He also said he thought that things could be worked out in a mutually acceptable manner between the two sides. But he was firm that Moscow -- which has long sought to steer the ultimate decision on Kosovo's independence toward the Security Council -- will not recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

Both China and Russia, which hold veto power on the Security Council, have said they believe negotiations over Kosovo's future should continue. Other Security Council members sharing that view include Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana.