Kosovo: UN 'Strongman' to Take Charge

Rival Serbs and Albanians may find it hard to get their way with Kosovo's new UN chief.

Kosovo: UN 'Strongman' to Take Charge

Rival Serbs and Albanians may find it hard to get their way with Kosovo's new UN chief.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The appointment of tough-talking Michael Steiner as new United Nations chief in Kosovo has sent a flutter of unease through the ranks of rival Serbs and Albanians. Both fear they may struggle to win over this highly determined German diplomat. Evidence indicates they might be right.

Up till now Steiner, a former adviser to the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, has refrained from publicly stating his view on whether Kosovo should be made independent under an ethnic-Albanian government or returned to Belgrade.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan selected him as a strong personality able to fend off pressures from either side and run the day-to-day administration of Kosovo in its present power vacuum.

Following the arrival of NATO troops in the summer of 1999, and the adoption of UN resolution 1244, Kosovo remained formally part of Yugoslavia but in practice became an international protectorate.

When Hans Haekkerup stepped down as the UN administrator in

Kosovo for personal reasons in December, there were two diplomatic views on who should replace him.

One group sided with the Albanians and thought his successor should be a bureaucrat charged only with implementing the results of the November elections in Kosovo, the transfer of political power to a new local government.

In the election, Albanians won most of the parliamentary seats but then squabbled among themselves to such an extent that they have still been unable to appoint a president or a government.

In light of this, the second diplomatic view prevailed, the appointment of someone who could make tough decisions over the running of the province. The international community felt Steiner could perform this role and duly appointed him UNMIK chief on January 21, 2002.

Steiner, 52, has had widespread experience in the Balkans. In the early 1990s, he headed the German humanitarian aid office in Zagreb. In subsequent years, he had a hand in helping to bring an end to the Bosnian conflict.

From 1994 to 1995, Steiner served as German special envoy to the contact group seeking peace in Yugoslavia. After the Dayton peace agreement, he served as deputy high representative for the international community in Bosnia.

While there, Steiner made great strides towards reconciling the three major ethnic groups, and was credited with a key role in bringing the moderate Biljana Plavsic to power in Republika Srpska.

During his three years as adviser to Chancellor Schroeder, Steiner displayed an ability to act independently and take on extra responsibilities. People who know him say that, like Haekkerup, he will not tolerate any Albanian attempts to boss him around.

Nor, friends say, is he likely to cave in to the Kosovo Serbs, whose hopes of restoring Belgrade sovereignty over the province have been rising since former president Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power.

Some in the Albanian leadership fear he might thwart their ambitions to see the UN role in the province scaled down. They are also concerned that Serbian politicians have close ties with their German counterparts - Serbia's prime minister Zoran Djindjic, for instance, has met Steiner several times - believing this may lead to the continuation of Haekkerup's recent policy of cooperation with Belgrade.

Some Serbs fear, however, that Steiner might partially abandon a UN agreement reached with the Serbian leadership prior to Kosovo's November elections, under which Haekkerup promised Belgrade greater influence in Kosovo political life through joint UNMIK working groups.

It's clear that the new UN boss will come under pressure from both sides, but his knowledge of regional issues and familiarity with "the Balkan way" of doing things may help manage his brief more efficiently than his forerunner.

Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic is a journalist with the Belgrade weekly NIN. Nikola Zivkovic is a Belgrade correspondent for NIN and Glas javnosti. He is also a political analyst for several German newspapers

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