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Kosovo: UN Lays Down Conditions

Last month's violent riots have not shaken the internationals' determination to make Kosovo's leadership play by their rules.
By Artan Mustafa

The authorities in Kosovo will face a tough challenge in meeting a set of democratic and human rights conditions laid down by the United Mission, after last month's violence left 20 people dead and some 900 injured.


On 31 March, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, released a 120-page document setting out an ambitious plan for fulfilling eight key "standards" it wants to see in place before planned talks take place on Kosovo's final status by mid-2005.


They concern institution-building, rule of law, freedom of movement, refugee returns, economic growth, property rights, dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade and ensuring professionalism in the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC.


Local analysts doubt the drive to achieve these standards will be successful, citing irreparably damaged ethnic relations, political divisions in the Albanian community, the presence of Albanian and Serbian extremists, and a perception that the international community is using delaying tactics to avoid tackling the tricky issue of final status head on.


The framework of the UN "Standards for Kosovo" policy was unveiled in late 2003 by United States Under-Secretary of State Marc Grossman as a parallel track along which Kosovo could move towards European Union integration, given its anomalous status as a de facto UN protectorate that remains nominally part of Serbia.


Kosovo's Albanian majority wants independence, while both Belgrade and the small Serbian minority want it to stay part of Serbia.


When Serbian troops withdrew in June 1999 after the end of the NATO air campaign, about 130,000 local Serbs fled, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR. From 2000 to 2004, only 4,958 Serbs returned. In just two days, from March 17 to 18 this year, the riots displaced more than 4,000 Serbs.


The Kosovo government has acted fast to limit the damage in the wake of international condemnation of the riots, setting up a five million euro fund to rebuild 286 burned Serb houses in various enclaves.


On April 3, Albanian leaders also published an open letter appealing for reconciliation between the communities. In the letter, Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi and other leaders said the unrest "proved how much damage is done to Kosovo when we are divided by hatred and fear". They added, "No one won. Kosovo was damaged."


Although the three main Albanian party leaders - Rugova, Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj - rushed to condemn the violence, some party branch leaders and local officials sounded a different note.


Ali Lajqi, mayor of Peja and a member of Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, led a crowd on March 18 to lay flowers at a spot near the Serbian enclave of Bjelo Polje where an Albanian protester was killed the day before. The protester was killed after attacking an UNMIK police officer who was resisting a mob that had set fire to 22 homes. Ironically, the homes were built only last year to provide accommodation for Serb returnees.


On the same day, another provincial leader, Gani Krasnici, head of Malisheva municipality and a member of Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, issued a statement denouncing UNMIK and KFOR and pointedly omitting to call for attacks on Serb homes to stop.


The UN's standards document demands a lot more than expressions of goodwill. Page 56 contains a provision that Albanian leaders will find a particularly bitter pill to swallow - the central institutions must remove "municipal authorities and political party branch leaders who contributed to violence against community members through public statements and actions".


Prime Minister Rexhepi made it clear that he was uncomfortable with this demand. At an April 2 meeting with UNMIK head Harri Holkeri, he asked him to remove the condition from the document. According to Ilir Deda, the Kosovo government's standards coordinator and an advisor to Rexhepi, the prime minister told Holkeri that punishing people on the basis of verbal statements would remind many of Yugoslav policies from the Eighties and Nineties, when the authorities used to condemn all Albanian nationalists as "irredentists" and "separatists".


Mimoza Kusari, the Kosovo government spokeswoman, was also unenthusiastic. "If police investigations show any Kosovan official was involved in violence, they must be brought to justice but we cannot be expected to fire people on the basis of their political beliefs," she said.


The UN is unlikely to back down. UNMIK strategy coordinator Carne Ross insisted that "every word on that plan was agreed with the [Kosovo] government and we expect it will be implemented".


Local observers fear public expulsions of officials from their posts will sharpen tensions in Albanian society, further exposing rifts revealed all too clearly in the March riots.


Such divisions have become evident within the biggest Albanian parties such as the LDK and the PDK.


On March 18, PDK leader Thaci, who was formerly head of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, condemned the violence unequivocally, adding: "We didn't fight for a Kosovo only for Albanians, but for equal rights of all citizens no matter what ethnicity they belong to".


But only the day before, Jakup Krasnici, the PDK secretary and minister of public services took a different line. He refused to sign a joint declaration by UNMIK and Albanian leaders condemning the violence, and described the protests as "legitimate" even though they had already turned violent.


An additional obstacle to fulfilling the UN standards is the stance of the Kosovo Serbs. Determined not to do or say anything that might appear to sanction Kosovo's road to independence, they refused to take any part in the UN standards policy even before the March riots.


"We wanted UNMIK to guarantee that implementation of standards will not result in an independent Kosovo," explained Dragisa Krstovic, representative of the Serb Coalition Return. "But they did not consider our request."


Both Ross and Ilir Deda, the Kosovo government standards coordinator, agree that the standards process could be hampered by diehards on either side. "The enemies of the standards process are Albanian and Serb extremists," said Deda, who is aware that ensuring sustainable returns of Serbs will be the most important and most difficult UN standard to fulfill.


Other voices fear the delay of the international community in tackling the final status of Kosovo will radicalise Albanian society, with or without the help of extremists.


"The process will not be ruined by extremists because they don't have enough potential in their hands to do this," said Shkelzen Maliqi, a Kosovo analyst.


"But if this is a process that the international community is using to buy time, and the status quo remains, Kosovo will become another Palestine - with violence and frequent murders."


In spite of such dire predictions, UNMIK remains upbeat that there is mileage in the "standards-before-status" policy. Officials defend a process which they say will give the majority Albanians an opportunity to show whether they are capable of ruling a country.


Ross said the policy was aimed at bringing about many changes in Kosovo that should make it easier to resolve the status of the protectorate.


"It will be difficult for someone to ruin this process, because the international community and the majority of the local leaders support it," Ross told IWPR. "So I don't expect failure".


Marcie Ries, chief of the US office in Pristina, takes a similar line. "The standards process is not a delay in the solution to status. On the contrary, fulfilling standards will bring Kosovo closer to resolving its final status," she said.


Whether this attitude will take root is hard to predict. Fears remain that if ordinary people conclude most of the standards are impossible to implement by mid-2005, they will look on them as a trap, designed to prevent any decision on the kind of state they will have in future.


Artan Mustafa is a journalist with the KosovaLive News Agency. Jeta harra is IWPR Kosovo project manager.


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