Copyrighted material


by Apostolis Fotiadis

to coverage of Kosovo declaration of independence

(IPS) PRISTINA -- After the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo on Feb. 17, ethnic tensions are rising dangerously again in the region, especially in Northern Kosovo and the other Serbian enclaves scattered around the province.

Daily protests in northern Mitrovica, an area with an ethnic Serb majority, the attacks on border checkpoints Jarinje and Brnjak by thousands of Serbs, and regular damaging of buildings and vehicles used by United Nations staff indicate a Serb determination to counteract the proclaimed independence of Kosovo.

But there is something more than raw anger that cultivates tensions in this case. A senior member of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and a customs official, both told IPS on condition of anonymity that UNMIK's serious incapacities in administering post-independence Kosovo, and the organized disobedience by the Serbs point to gloom prospects for Kosovo's future.

The customs official said the civil disobedience in Northern Mitrovica is radicalizing Serbs in Kosovo and keeping the atmosphere tense.

"The most important development is that for some time already the Serbian Kosovo Police (KPS) personnel have been disobeying orders coming from the central police authority in Pristina," he said. KPS is the multi-ethnic police force of Kosovo that deploys both Serbian and Albanian officers.

"Replacing them with Albanian officers is impossible, as well as releasing them from duty, because you need police presence," he said. The security vacuum is causing concern to UNMIK leaders who see their control over Kosovo fading rapidly.

According to resolution 1244 passed by the UN Security Council in June 1999, UNMIK was the supreme administrative authority for facilitating the process of defining Kosovo's status.

After unilateral independence UNMIK is supposed to have fulfilled its role. After a 120-day transitional period following the declaration of independence, it will be formally replaced, and practically incorporated, by the International Civilian Office (ICO) led by the European Union. ICO will supervise the legislative work of Kosovo's government and the implementation of the Ahtisaari Package.

The package, named after United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who mediated negotiations for the status of Kosovo between Belgrade and Pristina until their collapse in December 2007, was the basis for a draft UN Security Council Resolution which proposed "supervised independence" for the province. Serbian leaders in Belgrade have rejected the plan though it provides for a decentralization of powers along ethnic lines that would allow the Serbian population to retain control over their own communities all over Kosovo.

According to the plan, new legislation is valid only if ratified by the supervising international authority. However, as the UN official told IPS, "after independence the government has already introduced ten laws without seeking the supervisor's validation. In an internally circulated letter the PM Hashim Thaci is telling UNMIK that the authority to sign new legislation falls on the elected president of Kosovo."

International authorities have not reacted to this. The reason is that legal complications have rendered unclear where responsibilities lie between UNMIK and the ICO.

The Thaci administration still remains committed to implementing the Ahtisaari Package. But Visar Ymer, political analyst at the popular Albanian activist organization 'Self-Determination' believes that decentralization undermines independence itself.

"Implementation of the Ahtisaari Package will pave the way for a future frozen conflict in Kosova," he told IPS. "The declared state will be non-functional territorially in the future since the Serbian municipalities formed according to it will remain linked to Belgrade's parallel structures. The plan foresees the involvement of Serbia in local politics, but in a new way."

The 'parallel structures' are the maintenance of educational, welfare and security structures, and financial support offered to Serbians who remained in the province after 1999.

They have been used as a vehicle from Belgrade to preserve its influence in the area and make sure that Kosovo Serbs do not integrate into Kosovo's state structures.

While UNMIK attempts to downplay the importance of recent developments, people are becoming increasingly aware how dangerous the complications might become.

UNMIK head Joachim Rucker was asked during a visit to the Serbian enclave of Gracanica, 10 kilometres south of Pristina, whether "after losing control over northern Kosovo, you are going to lose the enclaves as well."

Such Serbian moves could provoke retaliation from Albanian militants, so far calm.

Hasim Thaci has stated that "Kosovo borders are the most secure in the region." This provoked Milan Ivanovic, leader of the Serbian National Council that maintains strong political control over northern Kosovo and the enclaves, to say that in the areas populated by Serbian majorities, Kosovo's leadership "can implement their presence only by force." He said such action would result in widespread violence.

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Albion Monitor   February 28, 2008   (

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