What's In Blue

Kosovo Briefing

Tomorrow morning (22 April), the Security Council will convene for its first regular briefing this year on the situation in Kosovo. Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Caroline Ziadeh is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIK, which was issued on 2 April and covers developments from 19 September 2023 to 15 March. Kosovo and Serbia are expected to participate under rule 39 and rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, respectively.

Ziadeh is expected to highlight key political and security developments in Kosovo during the period covered by the Secretary-General’s report. She may note that, while there was some progress in implementing EU-facilitated agreements, tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have persisted.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Ziadeh may call on Kosovo and Serbia to reaffirm their commitment to the EU-facilitated dialogue and to fully implement existing agreements, including the Agreement on the path to normalisation of 27 February 2023 and its Implementation Annex of 18 March 2023. The 11-point Agreement stipulates that neither Kosovo nor Serbia can represent the other in the international sphere and that Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in international organisations. In exchange, Kosovo committed to forming “specific arrangements and guarantees…to ensure an appropriate level of self-management” for the Serbian community in Kosovo. Diverging views on the sequencing of the implementation, however, have hindered concrete progress. (For more information, see the brief on Kosovo in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIK notes that, despite diplomatic pressure, there was no progress towards the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. The establishment of the Association/Community was stipulated in the 2013 First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations, with a subsequent agreement reached in 2015 outlining the formation steps. However, the 2015 agreement was not adopted by the Kosovo Assembly because of objections from the opposition. The case was eventually brought to Kosovo’s constitutional court, which approved the agreement but determined that several of its aspects violated the spirit of Kosovo’s constitution. On 21 October 2023, the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues, Miroslav Lajčák, accompanied by officials from France, Germany, Italy, and the US, visited Pristina and Belgrade and presented a draft proposal for the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Ziadeh is likely to emphasise that the security situation in northern Kosovo remains fragile. She might highlight the urgency of conducting early local elections in the northern municipalities, ensuring the participation of Kosovo Serbs, as a means to ease tensions.

In April 2023, the predominant political party in the Serb-majority northern Kosovo, Serbian List, called on the ethnic Serb community to boycott the elections that were held on 23 April in the four northern municipalities. As a result, fewer than four percent of eligible voters participated in the election. This low turnout paved the way for the victory of ethnic Albanian political parties. Tensions escalated in May 2023, when Kosovo police escorted the elected mayors into their municipal offices, amid protests by Kosovo Serbs in three northern municipalities. The situation deteriorated further on 29 May 2023 when the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) stepped in to disperse the Kosovo Serb protesters, leading to over 140 injuries, including approximately 50 civilians and 93 NATO troops.

After Vučić urged Kosovo Serbs in October 2023 to re-engage in political life in Kosovo, residents in all four northern municipalities launched petitions on 5 December 2023 to recall the mayors. By mid-January, the petition had gathered signatures from 20 percent of residents in the four municipalities, meeting the required threshold for a vote. Subsequently, on 8 March, the Central Election Commission (CEC) confirmed that it had verified the petitions and announced that the vote to recall the mayors would occur on 21 April. According to media reports, however, the Serbian List announced on 7 April that it would boycott the vote scheduled for today (21 April).

Ziadeh is also likely to express concern about the implementation of the new currency regulation on cash transactions. On 18 January, the Central Bank of Kosovo announced a new policy on cash operations that aims to control the amount of money in circulation, protect the integrity of the financial system, prevent counterfeit money, ensure consumer protection, and tackle money laundering and terrorist financing activities. The policy, which entered into force on 1 February, also made the euro “the only valid currency for conducting cash payment transactions”, effectively suspending the use of the Serbian dinar in Kosovo. On 6 February, Kurti announced that measures would be implemented to facilitate a transition period for the enforcement of the new currency regulation. On 8 February, the Security Council held an open briefing on Kosovo to discuss this development. (For more, see our 7 February What’s in Blue story.)

The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIK notes that the regulation “has affected the economic and social rights of non-majority communities, and especially the most vulnerable people”. At tomorrow’s meeting, Ziadeh might advocate for addressing outstanding issues through the EU-facilitated dialogue. She is expected to emphasise the importance of ensuring that the rights of all affected communities and vulnerable groups are respected and protected.

Ziadeh may also stress that UN premises and assets should remain free from interference. According to the Secretary-General’s latest recent report on UNMIK, since the May 2023 clashes between Kosovo Serb protesters and members of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, UNMIK has been unable to fully access its field offices located within the municipal premises of Leposavić/Leposaviq, Zubin Potok, and Zvečan/Zveçan in northern Kosovo. In light of this, Ziadeh might urge the relevant Kosovo authorities to assist UNMIK in regaining complete and unrestricted access to its facilities in northern Kosovo.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to voice concern about the deteriorating security situation in northern Kosovo and urge the parties to prioritise de-escalation, avoid any unilateral actions, and return to the EU-facilitated dialogue to normalise relations. Some members might also welcome the progress made by Belgrade and Pristina in facilitating reciprocal freedom of movement for vehicles between Kosovo and Serbia. (For more information on the dispute over license plates, see the Kosovo brief in our October 2022 Monthly Forecast.)

Some Council members might point out that the situation in Kosovo has changed since UNMIK was established, and call for a strategic review of UNMIK or for modifying its mandate with a view to its possible drawdown. Conversely, Russia is expected to argue that recent incidents of violence in Kosovo are symptomatic of ongoing instability, underscoring the necessity of UNMIK’s continued presence to help maintain order.

Russia might also discuss the aerial bombing campaign carried out by NATO against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in 1999, which it views as a root cause of regional instability in the Balkans. Twice during the week of 25 March, briefings sought by Russia to mark the 25th anniversary of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia did not take place, after procedural votes showed a lack of sufficient Council support. On 25 March, a briefing, foreseen under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item, did not take place after France called for a procedural vote on the meeting’s provisional agenda. Three countries voted in favour of adopting the provisional agenda (Algeria, China, and Russia), and 12 abstained. Russia requested a briefing on the same topic for 28 March, under the agenda item “Maintenance of international peace and security”. This briefing also did not take place, as a procedural vote on the adoption of the meeting’s provisional agenda, requested by France, garnered six votes in favour (Algeria, China, Guyana, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Russia), while the remaining nine Council members abstained. (For background, see our What’s in Blue stories of 24 March and 28 March.)

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