Expected Council Action
In the third week of September the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, is expected to brief the Council on the Kosovo status discussions at a closed meeting with some ministerial-level participation. No Council action is expected at this meeting. Ahtisaari is unlikely at this stage to present final recommendations on Kosovo’s eventual status, although his briefing may suggest some eventual parameters with a view to testing members’ reactions.
The Secretary-General’s periodic report on the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) is expected in the first week of September but may not be taken up for discussion in the Council at this stage.
Key Recent Developments
Status talks moved into high gear on 24 July when the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia met in Vienna for the first time for specific discussions on status. The two delegations presented their diametrically opposed positions. Belgrade is willing to allow for everything but independence, and Pristina is holding out for full independence as the only option. While the meeting was an important step, no breakthrough was achieved.
Throughout August and into the middle of September, Ahtisaari and his team will be involved in a spate of meetings on decentralisation, minority rights and culture. Ahtisaari in late August met with international and local officials in Kosovo and visited Mitrovica in northern Kosovo in an attempt to push forward the negotiations and get clear positions on the key issues.
Tensions in the north prompted the Contact Group (the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Germany) to issue a statement on 3 August calling on all parties to “take steps to ensure northern Kosovo remains a stable region.” However, the situation deteriorated on 26 August with a grenade attack on a Serb café in Mitrovica which injured nine people.
Three municipalities broke ties with the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) on 13 June and organised parallel security structures using former Serb army officers. NATO troops recently reopened a military camp in the north.
At the time of writing, a Kosovo Contact Group meeting was expected to take place in September before Ahtisaari’s briefing.
Montenegro’s declaration of independence on 4 June and admission to the UN on 28 June had an impact in the region and was seen by Kosovo as a harbinger of its independence.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Kosovo and head of UNMIK, Søren Jessen-Petersen, resigned on 12 June; Jessen-Petersen had been the longest-serving head of UNMIK. On 14 August, Joachim Ruckar was appointed as Special Representative and head of UNMIK and will take up the post on 1 September.
Substantive options are unlikely to be formally on the table at the September meeting. But given the intensification of Ahtisaari’s work, it is possible that the Council may consider the option of a more regular focus on the Kosovo issue, perhaps instituting a cycle of monthly briefings on Kosovo’s status.
The key issue in the minds of Council members will be the timing for discussion of the final status decision. There are signs that a negotiated solution by the end of the year may not be possible. This timeframe was suggested by the Kosovo Contact Group in its 31 January ministerial statement, which said that “all possible efforts should be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006.” Ahtisaari has made it clear that he is working towards finding a solution this year. But Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is said to be pushing for an April 2007 date.
Another issue which bears on timing is how the presence in New York of high-level representatives for the General Assembly in September will play out on this question. There will be opportunities for bilaterals at a ministerial level and Kosovo may figure on the agendas for these, as well as perhaps a high-level meeting of some or all Contact Group members.
A related issue is whether there is a role for Council members to assist Ahtisaari in getting the two parties to compromise on their positions. Serbia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vuk Draskovic suggested in March that Serbia might consider Kosovo being a member of various international organisations, except for the UN. There may well be other compromise formulas that could be explored, but at this stage members are likely to be cautious about the Council getting involved in the substance.
The US and the UK, both members of the Contact Group, still strongly support concluding discussions on Kosovo’s status by the end of 2006. There is some cautious optimism that Ahtisaari will want to float some tentative conclusions soon-perhaps even in September-although it seems likely that this would first be done at a Contact Group meeting.
Russia, another member of the Contact Group, has presented a consistent position on basic principles including: no return of Kosovo to the pre-1999 situation and no partition of Kosovo. But Russia has also said that that Kosovo’s future status must not be imposed, nor should talks about Kosovo’s future have a time limit. Russia may want to buy more time. It also has in the past drawn linkages with the situations in Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Transdniestria in Moldova. Russia’s potential veto over future decisions, such as an independent state’s admission to the UN, will also be a factor to be weighed.
Council members not in the Contact Group, have little information about the state of the status talks. Regular briefings are therefore seen as important, especially if the Council is going to have to make the final decision on Kosovo.
The situation in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica is potentially explosive given ethnic divisions and high unemployment. Any solution for Kosovo needs to be sensitive to these problems. Serbs in the north have threatened to secede if Kosovo is given independence.
Another potential problem is the political scene in Belgrade. Serbia’s minority government faces pressure from the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (Srpska radikalna stranka, or SRS) which is the largest single force in parliament.
There is concern that a decision on the status of Kosovo may lead to unrest like that in March 2004 when riots killed 19 people and displaced 2,000 Serbs.
A future problem would be how to guarantee safety for the Serbian minority.
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