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Balkan Report: May 28, 2008

Are Kosovar Serbs, UN On Collision Course?

By RFE/RL analyst Patrick Moore

'Kosovo is Serbia' is the belief of most of Kosovo's Serbs

Serbian politicians in Kosovo are planning to form local government bodies on the basis of the results of the May 11 Serbian elections. The UN has called the vote illegal and says that the only legitimate local governments in Kosovo are those that it approves.

Slobodan Samardzic, who is Serbia's minister for Kosovo and an ally of outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said in Kosovska Mitrovica on May 25 that local government councils and administrative bodies should be set up there within 15 days after Serbia's Election Commission confirms the results of the May 11 election.

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported that is not clear when those results will be announced, or if local Serbian leaders are willing to form their own local coalitions before a new national governing coalition is announced in Belgrade. Many local Serbian politicians appear to be in no hurry to form municipal governing bodies and seem prepared to await the outcome of the protracted coalition negotiations at the national level.

The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which is the UN's civilian administration in Kosovo, said repeatedly before the May 11 vote that it would "neither support nor hinder" Belgrade's organizing Serbian parliamentary elections in Kosovo, as was its position regarding previous Serbian legislative votes. UNMIK stressed, however, that it viewed Serbia's attempt at managing the local ballot there as yet another move toward partitioning Kosovo along ethnic lines, which the UN, European Union, the United States, and independent Kosovo's government firmly oppose. UNMIK officials argued that local elections run by the Belgrade authorities would be "in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244...and will have no legal validity."

Joachim Ruecker, who heads the UNMIK, told RFE/RL recently that the May 11 local vote remains illegal in UNMIK's view. He added that the mandate of local governments in five mainly Serbian municipalities will run out on June 18, and that it is unclear what will follow. Ruecker appointed those bodies after Kosovo's November 2007 local elections, which most Serbs boycotted.

If tensions mount between UNMIK and nationalist Serbian politicians, it would not be for the first time. In early March, officials from Belgrade and local Serbian railway workers announced that Serbia was "retaking control" from Kosovar Railways (HK) of a 50-kilometer stretch of railway north of Zvecan after a hiatus of nine years.

Since then, UNMIK claims that it has retaken control of the railways in northern Kosovo, while the Serbian authorities say that they themselves are reconstructing the line. RFE/RL noted that the railways, like the courthouses and customs offices in northern Kosovo, are simply not functioning.

In at least two incidents, Serbs resorted to violence against UNMIK officials in the north. On February 19, organized mobs destroyed UNMIK customs posts on the frontier with Serbia in an act that Samardzic later called "unfortunate but legitimate." Ruecker subsequently reminded the minister that Resolution 1244 places UNMIK and NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers "in charge of the whole territory of Kosovo." Belgrade often cites that document as a basis for its continuing legal claims to Kosovo.

On March 14, apparently organized Serbian crowds took control of a UN-run courthouse in northern Mitrovica, which Ukrainian UNMIK police subsequently recaptured with the loss of the life of one of their men. It was ultimately left to KFOR to restore order in the town and send the message that violence would not be tolerated. Larry Rossin, who is the deputy chief of UNMIK, said on March 17 that the rioters flagrantly violated the terms of Resolution 1244.

Fate Of The Enclaves

But not all Serbian politicians in Kosovo are willing to follow Belgrade's nationalist policies or provoke UNMIK. Serbian leaders north of the Ibar River generally take their cue from the Serbian capital, but only about 40 percent of Kosovo's 5 percent Serbian minority lives in the north; the remaining 60 percent live in scattered enclaves. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on May 28 that Serbs living in the enclaves reject independence for Kosovo but accept that they must carry out "pragmatic cooperation" with their ethnic-Albanian neighbors and the Kosovar authorities on the ground.

On March 25, veteran Kosovar Serb political leader Oliver Ivanovic, who is an ally of Serbian President Boris Tadic, accused Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of "playing politics" with the fate of Kosova's widely scattered Serbs by proposing what amounts to partition. Ivanovic argued that "in the north it's easy to play the big Serb and score cheap points, but it will cost the Serbs of central Kosovo dearly. The feeling of being abandoned would be intolerable for them, and would inevitably increase the migration of Serbs from Kosovo."

He recently told RFE/RL that local governments should be set up only in agreement with UNMIK, because "constant fighting" between local Serbs and the UN body will harm only the Serbs.

Rada Trajkovic, who is another established Kosovo Serb political figure, agrees that Belgrade's policies do not help local Serbs. The Frankfurt daily quoted her as saying that, in her view as a Serb from Kosovo, "nobody has damaged the [Serbian] state and Serbian people as much as Kostunica and Samardzic."

Are UN, EU Part Of The Problem In Kosovo?

By RFE/RL analyst Patrick Moore

UNMIK will continue to have its stamp on the administration of Kosovo

The EU planned earlier this year to take over the international community's civilian functions in Kosovo from the UN mission around June 15, when independent Kosovo's constitution takes effect. It now appears that the UN mission will remain in place for some time to come, and that the EU's mission will not be up to strength until at least the fall. There are several reasons for the changes.

Italian Foreign Minster Franco Frattini said in Brussels on May 26 that EU's EULEX mission of up to 2,200 police, judges, and advisers will "be operative in the field [only] after the summer, [namely in] September and October." Slovenian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, stressed that there "might be some little delays, but nothing dramatic." The men spoke after EU foreign ministers discussed the future of EULEX. During its presidency, which ends on June 30, Slovenia has placed special stress on the EU's role in the western Balkans.

In keeping with the plan put forward by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who was UN special envoy for Kosovo from 2005-07, Kosovo's independence is under international supervision, particularly where minority rights, security, and the judiciary are concerned. Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith heads the International Civilian Office, as well as the EU's Office of the Special Representative. EULEX, which is the most important component of the EU mission, is headed by Yves de Kermabon, a French former commander of NATO's KFOR peacekeepers.

Although June 15 is fast approaching, the EU currently has only about 300 people on the ground in Kosovo, many of whom are undergoing training in Pristina. EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on May 26 that deployment of EU personnel is continuing as planned but noted that he wants to discuss the future of the operation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the margins of a conference on Iraq in Stockholm on May 29.

Logistical and recruitment delays are only part of the reason for EULEX's slow start; problems in securing a broader international mandate are another. The current international civilian brief for Kosovo is vested in the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. Accordingly, some diplomatic formula must be found to transfer at least part of UNMIK's mandate to the EU and EULEX.

Until recently, that did not appear to pose much of a problem. Ban said on January 28 that Kosovo is a "European issue" and primarily a responsibility of the EU. But as Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on May 21, the UN is no longer accommodating the EU in its wish for a transfer of mandates on June 15 because Ban has become "more reserved." UNMIK, for example, has become reluctant to hand over cars, equipment, and offices to the EU, which the two sides had previously discussed informally. The EU meanwhile hopes at least for an official letter from Ban inviting EULEX to take up its mission. The UN might insist, however, on a more formal agreement.

Ban has reportedly become more restrained out of deference to the wishes of Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council and whose support he needs if he decides to seek a second term in office. Russia maintains that only 1244 provides a legal basis for Kosovo. Moscow also argues that Kosovo's declaration of independence is illegal, and that the EU's planned mission has no legal basis because it is linked to Kosovar independence and lacks a Security Council mandate. Russian diplomats argue that they have no objection to an EU mission in principle, but stress that it must be approved by the UN.

To complicate matters further, on March 11, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin called for new negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo's status, a proposal that is regarded as a nonstarter in Pristina and most Western capitals. On May 15, the foreign ministers of Russia, China, and India issued a call for new talks between Belgrade and Pristina "within the framework of international laws to seek a solution for the Serbian territory." Nor does Moscow miss an opportunity to link the question of Kosovo's independence to some issues outside the Balkans, namely to the status of the so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union.

In fact, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the State Duma on April 2 that "we have done all we could to disrupt plans to achieve quick and broad international recognition of Kosovo." He added that "we are not allowing the Kosovo issue to be taken outside the United Nations and have prevented the UN secretary-general from consecrating the European Union's mission to Kosovo, which does not have a UN mandate." A few days before Lavrov spoke, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who was one of the Soviet Union's top Middle East experts and the first director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" that the only practical solution for Kosovo is a partition along ethnic lines, which would include population transfers. It is not clear whether Primakov was speaking for anyone but himself. The UN, the EU, the United States, and the Kosovo government all support a multiethnic Kosovo and reject partition.

Besides Russian objections to the EU mission, there are other reasons for UNMIK to plan on staying beyond June 15, although it has no desire to remain in Kosovo at its present strength. The most important is that the EU needs the UN as a partner in northern Kosovo, where the Serbs have organized structures that recognize UNMIK but not EULEX. In other words, the EU will have to work through UNMIK if it is to play any role at all in the north, where 40 percent of the Serbian minority lives and violent protests took place in the spring.

Much remains to be clarified in the run-up to June 15. Speaking in Vienna on April 17, Feith nonetheless declined to specify any time frame for transferring UNMIK's mandate to EULEX, saying that "it is a matter for the EU and UN to take this further." He added that nobody should be "hung up" about the lack of a specific date for the transfer. But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on May 26 that the EU mission could be delayed if no agreement is reached with the UN by June 15.

Joachim Ruecker, who heads UNMIK, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service on May 23 that the UN will remain present in Kosovo after June 15 and as long as Resolution 1244 remains in force. He stressed that there must not be any duplication of missions between UNMIK and EULEX, because that would not be fair to the taxpayers who fund them.

There is also the matter of protection for the civilian missions by the 16,000-strong KFOR. Its spokesman, French Colonel Jean-Luc Cotard, said on March 27 that KFOR has no orders to support the deployment of EU staff. He stressed that "we are aware of the situation, but in fact it's a political issue. Before doing anything, the politicians have to deal with it at the EU, UN, and NATO level." On May 23, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Sofia that KFOR will remain after June 15 and stressed that the UN and EU must determine what their respective responsibilities will be after that date.

Britain's "The Times" argued on May 26 that unnamed NATO sources believe that Kosovo's Albanians have been "remarkably restrained" when confronted by violence from within the Serbian community in recent months. Those same sources warned, however, that "the political stability of Kosovo is being undermined by the failure of the United Nations and the European Community to clarify their roles and responsibilities.... '[The] key is for the EU police mission fully to take responsibility for policing Kosovo, but there seems to be some hesitation over this, which puts the NATO a difficult position. KFOR is not supposed to be a police force but is there to maintain a safe and secure environment,' one NATO diplomatic source said." The daily stressed that failure to define and clarify the respective roles of UNMIK and EULEX could "provoke potential problems" after June 15.