Launch

Friday, April 29, 2005

Kosovo freedom?

Well, after nearly 6 years of UN and NATO "supervision, in which things have barely improved, there are High stakes in Kosovo's freedom bid.
UN Security Council Resolution 1244 mandated the international community’s entry into Kosovo after an illegal but legitimate 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Slobodan Milosevic’s atrocity-prone Serbs to the negotiating table.

The aspirant statelet has been in political limbo ever since.

"We’re almost into the final stretch, and as we get more close to status discussions the stakes are higher and the risks increase," said Mr Jessen Petersen.

"There are three phases. One is status, two is UN support and monitoring, and three is transition and phasing out. In between phases two and three will come a new UN Security Council resolution."

Kosovo will then have its status determined. But will this be full independence? David Gowan, Britain’s ambassador to Belgrade, suggested this week that independence was one option being considered.

The UK is one of the six countries that make up the so-called Contact Group, along with France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States.

The Contact Group is currently considering how much progress Kosovo as a whole has made towards fulfilling an internationally-decided list of "standards" in areas such as good democratic governance and respect for ethnic minorities.

Richard Holbrooke, US Ambassador to the UN during the Clinton Administration thinks Kosovo should be set free from Serbia:
One notable policy change has gone virtually unnoticed -- the one concerning Kosovo, where, after four years of neglect and mistakes, the administration has made a major shift. Ever since the 78-day NATO bombing campaign freed the Kosovar Albanians from Slobodan Milosevic's oppressive grip in 1999, political control of Kosovo has been in the semi-competent hands of the United Nations, while NATO has maintained a fragile peace between the majority Albanian and minority Serb populations.

Under Security Council Resolution 1244, passed in 1999, the final status of Kosovo was supposed to be worked out through negotiations that would result in either independence, partition or a return by Kosovo to its former status as part of a country once known as Yugoslavia, now "Serbia and Montenegro." But instead of starting this process years ago, Washington and the European Union fashioned a delaying policy they called "standards before status," a phrase that disguised bureaucratic inaction inside diplomatic mumbo-jumbo. As a result, there have been no serious discussions on the future of Kosovo for the past four years, even as windows of opportunity closed and Albanian-Serb tensions rose. Finally, bloody rioting erupted last March, leaving eight Serbs and 11 Albanians dead, a thousand people injured and the region teetering on the brink of another war. Tensions have remained high ever since; just two days ago there was a bomb attack on the offices of an opposition party in Kosovo.

Last month, after warnings about the explosiveness of the situation from Philip Goldberg, America's senior diplomat there, Rice sent Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns to Europe for meetings with the nearly moribund Contact Group (the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Germany). Burns told them that the situation in Kosovo was inherently unstable and, unless there was an acceleration of efforts to determine its final status, violence would probably increase, with NATO forces, including U.S. troops, tied down indefinitely.

Under American pressure -- always the necessary ingredient in dealing with the sluggish, process-driven European Union -- a new Contact Group policy has begun to emerge. This summer a special U.N. representative will "determine" that Kosovo has met the necessary standards -- self-governance, refugees, returnees, freedom of movement, etc. -- and is therefore ready for status talks. (Of course, this should have been done years ago, but better late than never.) Then will come the really tough part: What should Kosovo's final status be? Separate nation, Serb province, partition?

Although no one is talking on the record in Washington or in Europe, I find it hard to see any ultimate outcome for Kosovo other than independence, perhaps on a staged basis over the next several years. But such an outcome requires strong guarantees for the endangered Serb minority that remains in Kosovo -- between 100,000 and 200,000 people. The protection of Kosovo's Serbs will require some sort of continued international security presence. In addition, the deeply divided Kosovar Albanians, whose last prime minister is now facing war crimes charges in The Hague, must achieve a much higher level of political maturity.

Ultimately, Belgrade will have to accept something politically difficult: giving up Serbian claims to Kosovo, which Serbs regard as their historic heartland. The Serbs will have to choose between trying to join the European Union and trying to regain Kosovo. If they seek their lost province, they will end up with neither. But, if it can opt for the future over the past, Serbia would have a bright future as an E.U. member, and the ancient dream of an economically integrated, peaceful Southeast Europe (including Greece and Bosnia) would be within reach. The European Union, however, must make a real deal on Kosovo an integral part of the membership process for Serbia.

There are many complicated subplots here, involving Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, the United Nations, the E.U. and NATO. But for now the important thing is that after ignoring the issue for four years, the administration is doing something in the Balkans, where nothing happens without U.S. leadership. Given that instability in the Balkans -- and Kosovo is highly unstable now -- has historically spread into other parts of Europe, and that the region lies in the heart of the growing NATO sphere, this is the sort of problem that must be addressed before it grows again into a major crisis.
(source) Not surprisingly, the Serbian ambassador to the US does not agree:
It is surprising to hear that for Richard Holbrooke, a former diplomat, "the standards before status" policy in Kosovo amounts to a disguise for "bureaucratic inaction inside diplomatic mumbo-jumbo" ["New Course for Kosovo," op-ed, April 20]. Devised by the U.N. Security Council and fully supported by the United States, this policy was aimed at ensuring the basic standards of democratic governance, including the return of refugees and safety and freedom of movement, before any decision was made on the future status of the U.N.-administered province of Serbia. As such it represents the only hope for a peaceful and multiethnic Kosovo. Yet, in his scorn for the policy or the reality in Kosovo, Mr. Holbrooke suggests that this summer the special U.N. representative should simply determine that the standards have been met and move on.

Unfortunately the standards are far from being met. Less than 1 percent of the 230,000 Serbs expelled from their homes by the majority Albanians have returned, not one of the 130 Christian churches that were destroyed has been rebuilt and the remaining Serbs still live in guarded enclaves.

In his scorn for the "sluggish" European Union, Mr. Holbrooke also proposes a new E.U. accession policy: "The European Union . . . must make a real deal on Kosovo an integral part of the membership process for Serbia." In other words, the aspirant members of the European Union need not strive to fulfill the requirements stemming from European values. Instead, they can simply trade in a part of their territory.

This is poor advice. The evaluation of standards in Kosovo should be based on facts, not political wishful thinking, let alone blackmail.

IVAN VUJACIC
Ambassador
Embassy of Serbia and Montenegro
Washington
(source)

Update: Oh, yes. I'm still trying to figure out what President Clinton's "exit strategy" was. Mr. Holbrooke seems to have adopted the "declare victory and leave" policy that "concluded" the U.S. Vietnam experience.

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