2 November 2006 New York Times
PRIŠTINA -- In the next few months, Kosovo is likely to win independence from Serbia.But it is unlikely to be the conclusion Western governments hoped for, after investing seven years supervising the province at an estimated cost of 1.3 billion dollars a year. It is increasingly evident that the international authorities will need to retain far greater responsibility in Kosovo than they wanted to.The Kosovo Albanians, the province’s majority population, who demand independence, and the government of Serbia have failed to reach an agreement in nine months of negotiations. The Serbs have refused to recognize government institutions dominated by the Albanians in what has been a territory dear to Serbian religious and cultural heritage.
The negotiations are dragging on, raising the likelihood that a solution will be imposed, ending a process that began 15 years ago with the breakup of Yugoslavia, which led to wars in Croatia, Bosnia and finally Kosovo. The conflict in Kosovo began when long-running tensions between its Albanians and the Serbian-dominated local authorities turned to violence with the start of an Albanian insurgency. Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was then the dominant part, sent in troops, who committed atrocities against civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes.
The United States and Western Europe have hoped that a Kosovo agreement would end the risk of violent disputes over borders and alleviate the need for a heavy international civilian and military presence. A European Union-led mission is to take over from the United Nations after Kosovo’s future is decided. “Everybody is anxious to solve this,” said Joachim Rucker of Germany, chief of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. “It is the last bit of the Balkan puzzle.” The Americans are eager to conclude the matter, but that action may be delayed. Since the government of Serbia would have to review any agreement, the United Nations may want to wait until after the elections that are expected there next year. The Americans are no longer heavily invested in Kosovo militarily — the United States has slightly more than 1,000 troops from the National Guard based there — but would be expected to pay some of the costs of establishing a more independent state and would have a role in a European-led mission.
Whatever the timing, it seems that foreign officials will retain extensive powers and continue to act as an arbitrator between the Albanians and the province’s Serbian minority for some time to come, United Nations and European Union officials here say. With Kosovo’s two million people the poorest in the former Yugoslavia, the financial costs may continue to be substantial. Per capita income is just over $1,000 a year, according to the United Nations Development Program. The International Monetary Fund projects a drop in the gross domestic product, because of general economic decline and the loss to the economy when a large United Nations mission withdraws.
“I think the E.U. is going to be in for a bit of a shock,” said Anthony C. Welch of Britain, the coordinator of a review of Kosovo’s future security needs commissioned by the United Nations. “I think their role is going to have to be a little more hands-on. And it is going to cost a lot.” Kosovo has remained under United Nations control since it was pried away from the Yugoslav security forces in June 1999. While it is still formally part of Serbia, the six nations overseeing the negotiations on its future say it cannot return to Serbian rule. The United Nations envoy to the negotiations, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, has been drafting a settlement, but it is being kept secret. It will first have to be put to both sides in the talks and then given to the Security Council to debate. The parameters of an imposed settlement are fairly clear, though, say United Nations and European Union officials responsible for planning the European successor to the United Nations mission.
Russia opposes independence for Kosovo, contending that it would set a precedent for other breakaway states. So, officials say, it is unlikely that a Security Council resolution will grant the province full statehood. “The Security Council would issue a mandate for a mission led by the European Union and invite individual countries to recognize Kosovo,” Mr. Welch said. Kosovo would not automatically have a seat in the United Nations General Assembly. Serbia is strongly opposed, and two-thirds of the Assembly’s members would have to recognize Kosovo before it could gain a seat. The European Union says it does not want to duplicate the overarching powers and cumbersome bureaucracy that the United Nations mission has had in Kosovo, which at one stage totaled 11,000 people, including international police officers.
The outside presence has been a source of tension with the Albanian population, some of whom see it as a colonial occupation. As long as there is substantial international oversight, that friction is likely to remain. The new office, headed by an “international civilian representative,” will have much more limited powers, European officials say, to be reviewed annually. Its major role would be to put a peace settlement into operation, especially with regard to protecting minorities. It would be able to dismiss local politicians, and to annul laws if they were deemed to be interfering with the peace settlement. “We will be limited in scope and in power, because we believe the philosophy has to be one of ownership and accountability,” said Torbjorn Sohlstrom, the Swedish diplomat who leads the small team of European officials setting up the mission.
Decentralization would grant the Serbian municipal authorities in Kosovo a substantial say over their own affairs. But opposition by Kosovo Serbs to international plans may require a more heavy-handed approach, perhaps even forcing the European mission to appoint representatives if the Serbs refuse to elect their own to an Albanian-dominated government, Mr. Sohlstrom said. United Nations and European officials also say a Security Council resolution could lay down much more stringent oversight measures than the ones currently being envisaged. “I think there are deep misgivings,” said Judy Batt of Britain, a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris. “I think they are probably horrified but know there is not an alternative.”
The prospect of greater European responsibility in Kosovo is unlikely to be welcomed by the European Union’s members, already disaffected over the costs of the union’s enlargement process, especially since they are likely to bear the brunt of Kosovo’s substantial economic needs. “Undoubtedly a change in Kosovo status is not a magic wand for solving socioeconomic problems,” said Frode Mauring of Norway, director of the United Nations Development Program in Kosovo. “With the downsizing of the international community there is a risk of a recession.” And economic difficulties can breed social unrest, he added. Mr. Rucker, the head of the United Nations mission, said, “I think it is very clear: if you expect stability, this has a price tag.”