Soren Jessen-Petersen International Herald Tribune SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2005
PRISTINA, Kosovo The UN Security Council meets in New York on Monday to discuss Kosovo, six years, four months and 14 days after the passage of Resolution 1244, which marked the end of Slobodan Milosevic's reign of terror in Kosovo, and the beginning of a period of UN interim international administration there.
Six years, four months and 14 days is a long time for any place to be under interim administration. But it is not unprecedented. In Bosnia, 10 years after the end of its horrific war, the international community retains a large degree of executive authority through the Office of the High Representative. What is perhaps unique about Kosovo, though, is that its ultimate destination - its future status - has been undefined throughout this period.
This legal limbo, in which Kosovo remains part of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (the successor state to Yugoslavia) but administered by the United Nations pending a final resolution of its status, has ceased to be sustainable. It is blocking efforts toward reconciliation in Kosovo.
The majority, the Kosovo Albanians, are worried about returning to the past and the Kosovo Serbs are worried about an uncertain future. The uncertainty that this situation engenders has a corrosive effect on regional politics. And its effects are also damaging economically, making investors chary of committing their money and preventing access to much-needed capital markets and international financial institutions.
In June, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, appointed a special envoy, Kai Eide, to undertake a comprehensive overview of the situation in Kosovo. On the basis of that report, the secretary general has recommended to the Security Council that the process of settling Kosovo's status should commence "very soon."
If, as I hope, the Security Council agrees with the secretary general to open the status process, then Annan will appoint a special envoy who will begin what is likely, at least at first, to be an exhausting round of shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina, regional capitals and the capitals of key European countries, as well as the United States.
Despite its manifest importance, however, the resolution of Kosovo's status will not - as too many people in Kosovo believe - prove to be a panacea. There are many practical issues to be dealt with, during and after status talks.
Most pressing from a human perspective is the question of minority rights. Too many Serbs and members of other minorities in Kosovo still fear for their safety. It is shameful to all of us that about 20 percent of Kosovo's Serbs do not feel free to move around safely within Kosovo.
Intimidation and a lack of freedom of movement are unacceptable and we will continue to work closely with the provisional government of Kosovo and with the representatives of the Serbian community to do everything we can to improve their quality of life. And while we are continuing to integrate the Kosovo Serbs into society, it is important that Belgrade finally allow them to take part in the political life of Kosovo and thereby give them a chance to reshape their own future.
Meanwhile Kosovo's economy remains in the doldrums, despite a large, young workforce and impressive mineral resources. Part of the problem lies with Kosovo's unresolved status, as I have mentioned, but unclear property rights also play a role. Kosovo's property records were removed to Belgrade in 1999 and have not been returned. These records are of little use to anyone in Belgrade, but would be of incalculable benefit to all if brought back to Pristina - a small gesture that could have a large effect.
The expectations attached to the status process are high in Kosovo. And so they should be. It is not every day that a process as historic as this is set in motion by the Security Council. We have come to this historic moment because there is broad agreement that the status quo is not sustainable.
An early resolution of the status question will finally allow Kosovo and the wider region to bury the past and focus on urgent social and economic priorities. It will also allow Kosovo and its neighbors to speed up their journey toward Europe.
(Soren Jessen-Petersen is the special representative of the UN secretary general and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.)