Friday, June 30, 2006

UN boss in Kosovo chides Serbia


Soeren Jessen-Petersen, outgoing head of UN mission in Kosovo
The UN official has struggled to engage Kosovo Serbs politically
The outgoing head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Soeren Jessen-Petersen, has criticised Serbia for its policy towards Kosovo's Serb minority.

Mr Jessen-Petersen, who is stepping down on Friday, told the BBC that Serbia was dissuading Kosovo Serbs from taking part in running the province.

He said high unemployment, rather than security fears, was the reason why so few Kosovo Serb exiles had returned.

The Serbian province has been run by the UN since the war in 1999.

Mr Jessen-Petersen said Kosovo Serbs formed less than 10% of the province's population, but he had spent more than that amount of his time reassuring them that they had a future in Kosovo.

He also warned that investors would stay away until Kosovo's final status was settled.

And he reiterated that the settlement had to be acceptable to the ethnic Albanian majority, which wants independence.

Status problem

The Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, said this week during a visit to Kosovo that the province would always remain part of Serbia.

Mr Jessen-Petersen took over as the fifth head of the UN's Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) in August 2004 - just five months after a bout of inter-ethnic riots had produced the worst violence since the end of the 1999 war.

That flare-up in violence was widely seen as a wake-up call for the UN and the international community in general that they could not allow the uncertainty over the future of Kosovo to be prolonged much longer, the BBC's South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos says.

There was growing awareness that Kosovo's interim status - legally part of Serbia, but administered by the UN - needed to be replaced by a long-term settlement.

Mr Jessen-Petersen responded by acknowledging on his arrival in Pristina that there would be no stability in the Balkans until the status of Kosovo was resolved.

Political tensions

A comprehensive survey conducted for the UN last summer concluded that conditions were ripe for launching the status talks, which got under way in February under the UN's special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari.

The start of the talks came after Kosovo's politicians had coped with the strains arising from the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj - indicted on war crimes charges last year - and with the death of President Ibrahim Rugova, who symbolised the Kosovo Albanians' struggle for independence.

Mr Jessen-Petersen, a Danish lawyer who has spent years doing humanitarian work with the UN, is leaving his post for family reasons.

Unmik will be headed by his principal deputy, US diplomat Steven Schook.

The coming months are likely to be very eventful for the new Unmik head, as the six-nation Contact Group - driving the diplomatic process to determine Kosovo's status - has indicated it would like the talks to be concluded by the end of the year.

If that is achieved, Unmik is likely to remain in place at least until mid-2007 to oversee the transition to a new status. BBC

UN boss in Kosovo chides Serbia


Soeren Jessen-Petersen, outgoing head of UN mission in Kosovo
The UN official has struggled to engage Kosovo Serbs politically
The outgoing head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Soeren Jessen-Petersen, has criticised Serbia for its policy towards Kosovo's Serb minority.

Mr Jessen-Petersen, who is stepping down on Friday, told the BBC that Serbia was dissuading Kosovo Serbs from taking part in running the province.

He said high unemployment, rather than security fears, was the reason why so few Kosovo Serb exiles had returned.

The Serbian province has been run by the UN since the war in 1999.

Mr Jessen-Petersen said Kosovo Serbs formed less than 10% of the province's population, but he had spent more than that amount of his time reassuring them that they had a future in Kosovo.

He also warned that investors would stay away until Kosovo's final status was settled.

And he reiterated that the settlement had to be acceptable to the ethnic Albanian majority, which wants independence.

Status problem

The Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, said this week during a visit to Kosovo that the province would always remain part of Serbia.

Mr Jessen-Petersen took over as the fifth head of the UN's Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) in August 2004 - just five months after a bout of inter-ethnic riots had produced the worst violence since the end of the 1999 war.

That flare-up in violence was widely seen as a wake-up call for the UN and the international community in general that they could not allow the uncertainty over the future of Kosovo to be prolonged much longer, the BBC's South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos says.

There was growing awareness that Kosovo's interim status - legally part of Serbia, but administered by the UN - needed to be replaced by a long-term settlement.

Mr Jessen-Petersen responded by acknowledging on his arrival in Pristina that there would be no stability in the Balkans until the status of Kosovo was resolved.

Political tensions

A comprehensive survey conducted for the UN last summer concluded that conditions were ripe for launching the status talks, which got under way in February under the UN's special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari.

The start of the talks came after Kosovo's politicians had coped with the strains arising from the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj - indicted on war crimes charges last year - and with the death of President Ibrahim Rugova, who symbolised the Kosovo Albanians' struggle for independence.

Mr Jessen-Petersen, a Danish lawyer who has spent years doing humanitarian work with the UN, is leaving his post for family reasons.

Unmik will be headed by his principal deputy, US diplomat Steven Schook.

The coming months are likely to be very eventful for the new Unmik head, as the six-nation Contact Group - driving the diplomatic process to determine Kosovo's status - has indicated it would like the talks to be concluded by the end of the year.

If that is achieved, Unmik is likely to remain in place at least until mid-2007 to oversee the transition to a new status. BBC

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Serbia warns of break with west over Kosovo

By Daniel Dombey in London and Neil Macdonald in Pristina

Published: June 28 2006 03:00 |FT

Serbia yesterday warned it could break with the west unless the international community took a more conciliatory approach over the issues of Kosovo and the apprehension of an indicted war criminal.

Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian premier, said that Belgrade would not accept an imposed solution for the majority ethnic Albanian province that many western diplomats believe should be put on the path to independence by the end of the year.

Speaking in London after meeting Tony Blair, his UK counterpart, Mr Kostunica also labelled as "absurd" the European Union's decision to halt negotiations on closer ties with Serbia because of Belgrade's failure to apprehend Ratko Mladic, a war crimes indictee.

But he did say that Serbia would draw up an "action plan" on improving co-operation with the United Nations tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, a step the EU has called for.

An "imposed solution" would "certainly be rejected by Serbia's parliament, and "that would inevitably mark the turning point [for] . . . Serbia's relations with the rest of the world," he said.

Within Serbia, support for the extreme nationalist Radical party is rising and Mr Kostunica said the country was "becoming tired of the constant pressure".

He singled out the EU's decision to halt talks on a stabilisation and association agreement - a waystation to membership - because Mr Mladic remains free.

"We have, in fact, ended up in a position where the survival of an entire Eur-opean democracy directly depends on bringing tojustice one single indictee, which . . . is absurd," hesaid.

Mr Blair called for Serbia to comply with the wishesof Kosovo's people and also to step up its co-operation with the UN tribunal.

The UK has been atthe forefront of calls forBelgrade to live up to its obligations, while other governments, notably France, have taken a more conciliatory approach, concerned that Serbia could be alienated from the EU.

Serbia warns of break with west over Kosovo

By Daniel Dombey in London and Neil Macdonald in Pristina

Published: June 28 2006 03:00 |FT

Serbia yesterday warned it could break with the west unless the international community took a more conciliatory approach over the issues of Kosovo and the apprehension of an indicted war criminal.

Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian premier, said that Belgrade would not accept an imposed solution for the majority ethnic Albanian province that many western diplomats believe should be put on the path to independence by the end of the year.

Speaking in London after meeting Tony Blair, his UK counterpart, Mr Kostunica also labelled as "absurd" the European Union's decision to halt negotiations on closer ties with Serbia because of Belgrade's failure to apprehend Ratko Mladic, a war crimes indictee.

But he did say that Serbia would draw up an "action plan" on improving co-operation with the United Nations tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, a step the EU has called for.

An "imposed solution" would "certainly be rejected by Serbia's parliament, and "that would inevitably mark the turning point [for] . . . Serbia's relations with the rest of the world," he said.

Within Serbia, support for the extreme nationalist Radical party is rising and Mr Kostunica said the country was "becoming tired of the constant pressure".

He singled out the EU's decision to halt talks on a stabilisation and association agreement - a waystation to membership - because Mr Mladic remains free.

"We have, in fact, ended up in a position where the survival of an entire Eur-opean democracy directly depends on bringing tojustice one single indictee, which . . . is absurd," hesaid.

Mr Blair called for Serbia to comply with the wishesof Kosovo's people and also to step up its co-operation with the UN tribunal.

The UK has been atthe forefront of calls forBelgrade to live up to its obligations, while other governments, notably France, have taken a more conciliatory approach, concerned that Serbia could be alienated from the EU.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Kosovo: Jessen-Petersen's Departure Begins The End Game


By Patrick Moore
Kosovo -- Jessen-Petersen, Soren
UNMIK head Soren Jessen-Petersen (file photo)
(epa)
PRAGUE, JUNE 25, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Denmark's Soren Jessen-Petersen leaves Kosovo as head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) at the end of June. His successor is likely to be the last person in that post before the international community and Kosovar leaders agree on the details of how Kosovo will move toward independence.

Jessen-Petersen will probably be remembered by most Kosovar Albanians as the best leader of UNMIK during the transition from Serbian rule, which effectively ended with the departure of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in June 1999, and the declaration of Kosovo's independence, the circumstances of which are likely to be clear before the end of 2006.

The End Of UNMIK

The international community has made it clear that Belgrade will not have a veto over Kosovo's future. Most commentators agree that Jessen-Petersen's successor will be the last person to head UNMIK, which has long since begun to hand over some of its functions to officials of the elected Kosovar government.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Jessen-Petersen did his homework relating to his job and did not consider himself bound to steer a middle course in every controversy that came along. It was during his term in office that the UN and the major international powers -- whether they said so in public or not -- came to accept that "political limbo" could not be continued indefinitely because it would compound the fears and frustrations of the province's 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority and possibly lead to more violence like that which shook the province in March 2004. He also recognized that the only way forward was to move toward independence, albeit with strong guarantees for the Serbs and other minorities.

Serbs Battling A Lost Cause

His unambiguous views and his reputed closeness to some ethnic Albanian political leaders, such as Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), prompted some Serbian politicians to call for his resignation, but such tactics only served to underscore the weakness of the Serbian position. The local Serbs, whose future will ultimately lie with their Albanian neighbors in an independent state, by and large boycott Kosovo's growing institutions of self-government at the behest of Belgrade and thereby miss out on the opportunity to put their mark on the new state from the beginning.

Belgrade politicians, who have expected to face early elections for well over a year, are reluctant to say or do anything that voters might interpret as showing "weakness" regarding Kosovo. They thus waste time and energy over Kosovo, which some of them privately admit is "lost" anyway, that could be put to use in dealing with Serbia's real problems -- crime, poverty, corruption, and a democracy deficit. Some observers go one step further and suggest that the politicians deliberately draw voters' attention to the Kosovo issue in order to divert their gaze away from those same politicians' poor track record in improving the daily lot of ordinary Serbs.

Guaranteed Rights For Minorities

On June 20, Jessen-Petersen submitted his final report to the UN Security Council. He made it clear that the elected Kosovar institutions have made good progress toward implementing the international community's standards, particularly since Prime Minister Agim Ceku was nominated in March.

Jessen-Petersen noted that many members of the Serbian minority have cause for complaint but added that he hopes that their problems will be dealt with quickly. He also stressed that the Serbs should not consider themselves victims of deliberate oppression and repeated his call for them to take part in public life. He warned of the dangers inherent in the prolongation of the unclear political status, which, he argued, must be settled in keeping with the wishes of the majority while respecting the rights of the minority.

It will be incumbent on the ethnic Albanians to offer the Serbs fair treatment under the rule of law. If the Albanians fail to do so, they can expect difficulties with the international community. But the violent incidents that take place from time to time seem sporadic rather than planned, may be rooted in personal or criminal rather than in ethnic disputes, and could be, at least in some cases, engineered by Serbian extremists in order to maintain tensions and discredit the Kosovar government.

There are, however, few observers who expect many of the Serbian refugees and displaced persons to return to their old homes. While their numbers are uncertain, figures of around 235,000 often surface in the media, but Kosovar officials claim that the real number is lower.

Fifth Column?

The root of the problem is that the Albanians tend to distrust local Serbs in general because of the active role that many of them played in bringing Milosevic to power in the second half of the 1980s and in keeping him there. Perhaps more important, most Albanians believe that Milosevic's repressive campaign of 1998-99, which culminated in the "ethnic cleansing" of the Albanians in the spring of 1999, could not have been carried out without the active participation of local Serbs, both as combatants and as providers of "human intelligence" about their neighbors. Some German Balkan experts have drawn parallels with the Czech attitude at the end of World War II toward the Sudeten Germans, whom the Czechs regarded as an incorrigible Fifth Column, even though Kosovar officials are at pains to stress that local Serbs will enjoy full protection of the law.

A memorial to ethnic Albanian guerrillas killed during the 1998-99 fighting in Kosovo (epa file photo)

The local Serbs, for their part, remain fearful. Violent incidents against Serbs have contributed to this tense climate, particularly when those killed or injured are the very young or very old. It should be recalled that in launching his wars in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, Milosevic was able to exploit the fears of local Serbs there who refused to accept that they might possibly live safely and peacefully as a minority in a state in which others constituted the majority. The Serbs of Kosovo today are no less worried than were the Serbs of Krajina in 1990, even if they are not seriously planning to arm themselves or expecting military help from Belgrade. Meanwhile, most local Serbian politicians have displayed more skill in criticizing and complaining that in providing leadership or offering constructive programs.

As Jessen-Petersen's mandate comes to its end, Kosovo moves toward a clarification of its final status. Most international commentators point out that anything short of independence, however qualified, is simply unrealistic.

As Montenegro celebrates its newly won statehood, and Serbia finds itself in growing international disrepute over its failure to arrest and extradite former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic, Kosovo's independence probably seems even more realistic that it did at the start of 2006.

Blair warns Serbs to accept different vision for Kosovo

By Neil MacDonald in Belgrade and Mark Turner at the United,Nations

Published: June 26 2006 03:00 | Last updated: June 26 2006 03:00

Serbia must accept a "different vision" for the future make-up of south-east Europe or face increasing isolation and diminishing prospects of closer relations with the European Union, Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, will tell Vojislav Kostunica, his Serbian counterpart, tomorrow

At a London meeting at which Belgrade is likely to be pressed to meet its international obligations, such as catching indicted war criminals, Mr Kostunica would also be urged to accept the inevitability of independence for Kosovo, the breakaway Serbian province under United Nations administration, by the end of this year, British officials said.

The warning comes amid increased diplomatic activity as UN-mediated negotiations in Vienna over the status of Kosovo approach their decisive political phase. Six rounds of technical meetings have failed to produce any breakthrough on the basic status question.

Belgrade is under pressure from the UK, US and the UN administration in Kosovo to accept independence as the "least problematic solution".

However, Mr Kostunica faces formidable domestic pressure not to abandon Serbia's historical claims to the province, now dominated by ethnic Albanians. Belgrade continues to offer "the widest possible autonomy" without conceding sovereignty.

The 100,000 remaining Kosovo Serbs have sounded alarm bells about renewed ethnic violence aimed at driving them out. Serbs who have returned to northern Kosovo say they will pack up and go to central Serbia again unless the UN interim administration tracks down the murderer of Dragan Popovic, a 68-year-old Serbkilled last week on the doorstep of his home, to which he returned last year after abandoning it in 1999.

While an autopsy showed a gunshot wound to the back of his head, the UN administration refused to confirm an ethnic motive for the killing. UN officials warned Serbs against "any unilateral security measures not within the bounds of law", such as forming local militias.

Guaranteeing the rights and safety of the ethnic minorities who make up 10 per cent of Kosovo's population is the main test for the ethnic Albanian leadership negotiating independence.

Roughly 200,000 people - including at least half of the province's Serb population - from ethnic minority groups fled Kosovo in the wake of the 1999 war.

Only around 5 per cent of those Serbs have returned, despite a UN-brokered protocol on returns.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, chief UN administrator in Kosovo, told the UN Security Council last week that many Kosovo Serbs "feel confused, exposed and isolated, and they do not know what to think about the future".

But he also accused Belgrade of keeping them from engaging in local democratic politics.

Serbian state-run newspapers recently exposed internal UN plans for dealing with a "new Serb exodus" of 70,000 people from Kosovo in the event of independence.

UN officials in Belgrade confirmed the existence of emergency evacuation plans, but cautioned against citing these as a "scare tactic".

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

UN Envoy Accuses Serbia of Encouraging Ethnic Tensions In Kosovo

UN Envoy Accuses Serbia of Encouraging Ethnic Tensions In Kosovo
,VOA

20 June 2006


The top U.N. envoy to Kosovo is accusing Serbia of promoting ethnic tensions to prevent the breakaway province from achieving independence. The envoy is urging prompt action to determine the region's future.

Soeren Jessen-Petersen
Soeren Jessen-Petersen
U.N. Special Envoy Soeren Jessen-Petersen says the people of Kosovo are growing impatient with the province's uncertain future. As he prepares to leave after two years on the job, Jessen-Petersen told the Security Council that after seven years of U.N. rule, the time has come to finally settle the question of Kosovo's status.

"We cannot keep Kosovo in limbo for much longer. And as I leave, this is my biggest hope is that we clarify the status and that all those who have suffered so badly during the conflicts in the region over the last 15 years can finally be the beneficiaries of a settlement," he said.

The envoy expressed fear that people's patience might run out if Kosovo's "limbo status" drags on. "For the last two years, we've been managing stability in Kosovo on the basis of hope - hope given by the launch of the status process. People have been remarkably patient. Remarkably. Because we have a status process that is moving forward. If suddenly the status process either slows down or stops, I think that patience will be running out. This is not a threat, this is not blackmail. It is a simple recognition of reality on the ground. We need to move from a limbo situation to clarity," he said.

Jessen-Petersen's comments came as the Security Council appears increasingly likely to allow Kosovo to break away from Serbia. A vote is expected by the end of the year.

But in his briefing to the Security Council, the envoy accused Serbian authorities of promoting ethnic distrust and isolationist policies in an attempt to slow or even stop the status process. "As an example, whenever there is any crime in which the victim is a Kosovo Serb, an ethnic motive is often proclaimed, usually without any evidence. This is not only unfair to Kosovo as a society. More worryingly, it perpetuates a climate of insecurity among Kosovo Serb communities," he said.

A Serbian representative rejected Jessen-Petersen's portrayal, saying it does not reflect the true picture. Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, president of the Serbian Coordination Center for Kosovo charged that Kosovo Albanian authorities tolerate what she called "low intensity extremist violence" against Serbs. "It is well-known that human rights in Kosovo have been violated on a mass scale. The very right of Serbs and non-Albanians, a definite minority in the province, has been threatened," he said

Raskovic-Ivic said Serbia is offering Kosovo substantial autonomy from Belgrade. She suggested that the push to complete the status process was aimed at influencing the outcome in favor of the Kosovo Albanians' request for full independence.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, after the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serbian police staged a brutal crackdown on an ethnic Albanian insurgency. Forces loyal to Belgrade were accused of widespread atrocities in the crackdown, which killed an estimated 10,000 people, most of them ethnic Albanian civilians.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Kosovo may be next to split from Serbia

By Nicholas Wood The New York Times

Published: June 12, 2006
Seven years after Kosovo was placed under United Nations control, it appears increasingly likely that the province will be allowed to formally break away from Serbia and become an independent nation.
Members of the UN Security Council appear to be leaning toward permitting Kosovo to go its own way; the council is expected to vote on Kosovo's fate by the end of the year, unless the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, who have been negotiating unsuccessfully for months, reach a resolution.
But some of the world's most powerful countries are fearful that the move will encourage separatist movements elsewhere to ramp up their often bloody struggles and give hope to nascent independence groups that have not yet begun to fight. On the other hand, Russia, which had been adamantly opposed to Kosovo's independence, has now indicated that it might set a welcome precedent for pro-Russian separatist movements in the Caucasus.
The six nations working on a plan for Kosovo's future - Britain, France, Italy, the United States, Germany and Russia - have coordinated international policy in the province since it came under the control of the United Nations. Their representatives say they will try to craft a resolution to be voted on by the Security Council that will be so specific to the province that it will avoid setting legal precedent for other separatist groups.
The United Nations has controlled Kosovo, which is still officially a part of Serbia, since June 1999, when Yugoslav troops accused of committing widespread atrocities were forced to withdraw from the province after months of NATO-led bombing. Between 1998 and 1999, an estimated 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanian civilians, were killed as the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army and the Serbian police cracked down on an ethnic Albanian insurgency.
Diplomats who represent the United States and Britain in the negotiations say they believe the only solution that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority will accept is independence, but they insist that the new state provide guarantees for its minority Serb population.
Other Western governments also want to find a speedy solution because they are growing weary of financing the peacekeeping troops and international officials who control the province. But Serbian leaders, wounded by Montenegro's recent break from Serbia and bitterly opposed to yet another split, say Kosovo independence could encourage the breakup of Bosnia and Herzegovina, another former Yugoslav republic.
Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia's Serb Republic - the area seized by Serb forces within Bosnia during the 1992-95 conflict there - said the region should "affirm the right to self determination" by holding a referendum.
The republic has remained part of Bosnia since the end of the conflict, but many Serbian politicians there have long hoped to unite with neighboring Serbia. Bosnian analysts say a referendum could split Bosnia in two, and provoke renewed violence.
While Dodik later toned down his remarks, saying the suggestion was theoretical, ethnic Serbian politicians throughout the region say that if Kosovo becomes an independent state, pressure will inevitably increase for the Bosnian breakup. Some leaders in Serbia have suggested that Kosovo itself should be split, with the Serb-dominated north allowed to remain a part of Serbia, while the Albanian-dominated south forms its own government.
"If the Albanians want independence, maybe they should give something in return," Cedomir Antic, a member of G17 Plus, a political party that is part of the Serbia's coalition government, said in a recent interview.
Last week, the UN Mission in Kosovo announced the deployment of an additional 500 police officers in the north, amid threats by local leaders to create vigilante groups to provide security for Serbs. Ethnic Albanian leaders have said the threats signal a separatist intent.
The NATO-led peacekeeping force also said it would reopen a military base in the area.
The pro-Russian areas that might seek statehood are South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway regions in Georgia that have been outside central government control since the early 1990s, and Transnistria, a Communist- run separatist region on the eastern edge of Moldova.
In January, President Vladimir Putin of Russia made clear he regarded Kosovo as a precedent for the Caucasus and said: "If someone believes that Kosovo should be granted full independence as a state, then why should we deny it to the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians?"
Abkhaz politicians have asserted recently that their claims for recognition are stronger than Kosovo's, since they are not under international protection and claim to have had a record of democratic government for almost 12 years