July 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 June 2006
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EUROPE

Kosovo

Expected Council Action
In July the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, will give an assessment of talks between Belgrade and Pristina at a public meeting of the Council.  No Council action is expected, but some probing questions in the Informal Consultations are likely. In September, Ahtisaari may return with an update.

Council Dynamics
The briefing and opportunity for questions are an important part of the dynamics surrounding the Kosovo issue. While the Contact Group (the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Germany) remains the focal point for international diplomacy surrounding the status talks, the Council will ultimately need to approve any agreement on Kosovo’s final status.  If the parties do not reach an agreement, the Council will have to deal with the situation.  Council members that are not part of the Contact Group have little information about, and little influence over, the status process.  Ahtisaari, who has a very independent role in the process, has said he will remain in close consultation with the Contact Group and China. His briefing, while unlikely to surprise Council members who are Contact Group members, will be very important to the Council as a whole.  He is known to strongly favour a thorough negotiation process that will secure the Contact Group’s support.

Despite recent progress in clarifying the parties’ respective positions on major issues, the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo remain far apart on the status of Kosovo.  Most Council members seem to accept that seven years of international administration preclude any return of Kosovo to Belgrade’s control.  As a result, many members want to maintain pressure on Pristina to fulfil commitments to establish adequate provisions for the minority population in Kosovo, as this is viewed as essential for any status resolution.
 
A major dynamic in the Council in the past has stemmed from the concern by some, Russia in particular, but others as well, that independence for Kosovo could stimulate separatist struggles elsewhere.

The Council has not previously discussed Ahtisaari’s approach to the talks and will be interested in his report. 

Key Facts
Established by resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was tasked with “facilitating a political process designed to determine Kosovo’s future status.”  On 23 May 2005, the Secretary-General asked Kai Eide of Norway to examine whether the situation in Kosovo warranted the start of formal status negotiations.  Although Eide noted several areas of concern he recommended the commencement of status talks, which was supported by the Secretary-General.  On 24 October, the Council endorsed this recommendation.

Ahtisaari was appointed to his post on 10 November.  The start of negotiations was delayed by the death of Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova in January.  Since then, there have been six rounds of talks in Vienna between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, focusing on technical issues such as decentralisation, the protection of religious heritage and the economy.  The status process is expected to be completed by the end of 2006, although Ahtisaari has warned that talks may take longer.

Key Issues
Concern in the Council that Kosovo’s independence could encourage separatist movements elsewhere to escalate their struggles seems to have receded somewhat.  But the issue has not gone away. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently suggested that the logic behind an independent Kosovo could apply to potential independent states in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Contact Group representatives have said they will ensure that any Council resolution on final status will be so specific to Kosovo that it should avoid setting a legal precedent.

A related issue flows from the fact that Kosovo Albanians insist they will settle for nothing less than independence.  Serbia has offered “conditional” independence that would restrict Kosovo’s autonomy for a twenty-year transition period in which Belgrade would maintain control over borders and Kosovo would be forbidden to develop military forces.  Belgrade is particularly sensitive about Kosovo acquiring a UN seat, and this could presage a future issue in the Council should an admission application be put to it.  While many experts believe Belgrade’s plan was proffered for domestic reasons and comes rather late in the process to influence the status outcome, resolution 1244 does recognize a role for Serbia in the process, perhaps a factor in Ahtisaari’s warning about possible delays.

Another issue, which Council members want to avoid, is a mass exodus of Serbs  from Kosovo, 223,000 of whom have already left since 1999.  Some Serbs have also raised the issue of a possible partition along the Ibar River, which would become the frontier between Serbia and Kosovo.  In June, Kosovo Serb leaders broke off contact with UNMIK and Kosovo institutions, which some viewed as a step toward secession.  Fearing an attempt by northern Serbs to succeed from Kosovo, Ahtisaari and others have repeatedly encouraged the Kosovo Serbs to participate in the Kosovo political institutions they have been boycotting, while appealing for Belgrade’s assistance toward this end, thus far with little success. 

Meanwhile, Belgrade has warned that Kosovo’s independence could bring hard-line nationalists to power in Serbia. 

Recent Developments
Ahtisaari adopted a “bottom-up” approach to status talks. Discussions began with technical, “status-neutral” issues such as decentralization, the economy and the protection of cultural heritage.  In addition to the Vienna talks, eight expert missions have visited Belgrade and Pristina since November 2005 with two further such visits scheduled for the coming weeks.  Over the summer, Ahtisaari is hoping to bring the Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Serbia together for direct talks, although some doubt that this is realistic. 

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo Søren Jessen-Petersen has postponed local elections, declaring that they will instead be held three to six months after a final status decision.

Underlying Problems
The memory of the violent riots of March 2004 and the potential for a renewed deterioration of the tense situation hang in the background.  Ethnically divided areas such as Mitrovica remain flashpoints for violent conflict. Kosovo remains one of the poorest regions in Europe, with over half its population living in poverty.

UN Documents

 Security Council Resolution
  • S/RES/1244 (10 June 1999) authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Yugoslav (FRY) forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.
 Selected Presidential Statement
  • S/PRST/2005/51 (24 October 2005) declared it was time to begin the political process to determine the future status of Kosovo.
 Selected Secretary-General’s Reports / Letters
  • S/2006/361 (5 June 2006) noted that the parties remained far apart and compromise would be essential.
  • S/2005/635 (7 October 2005) contained Kai Eide’s report.
Other Relevant Documents

 

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