27 March 2006

Ahtisaari plans "bottom up" Kosovo approach, predicts long talks



Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA)

Date: 15 Feb 2006


Berlin_(dpa) _ The United Nations special envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, said Wednesday talks opening next week aimed at resolving the province's future status were likely to take years to conclude.


"It's impossible to create in a year's time in 2006 a society where everybody loves each other," said Ahtisaari after talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.


Ahtisaari, who plans to preside over the talks opening Monday in Vienna between Kosovo Albanian and Serbian officials, said he planned to take "a bottom up approach" of first dealing with smaller, local issues.


The first priority of talks was winning a deal on decentralizing the province's structures, he said.


"When we talk about protection of minorities the decentralization of administration is a very crucial element," he said.


This and other lesser issues would be a build-up to the toughest question: a final status for Kosovo.


Ethnic Albanians, who comprise 90 per cent of the province's almost 2 million people, want full independence, but Serbia's government wants Kosovo to stay a part of Serbia, albeit with autonomy.


Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999 after NATO forces fought a war with Serbian forces under then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic following his brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians.


"I have a tendency in these sorts of processes to say if people start tolerating each other it's a good beginning," said Ahtisaari who helped negotiate the end of the 1999 NATO war with Serbia.


He stressed that many other issues had to be resolved before final status themes could even begin to be addressed.


"In many cases we have to create mechanisms which will continue working for years," said Ahtisaari, adding, "But the end result has to be our effort to create conditions where the minorities can live comfortably in a multi-ethnic society."


Foreign Minister Steinmeier admitted Ahtisaari's task "was not easy" but underlined German support for a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo.


Ahtisaari said he planned to visit Belgrade and Pristina in the week of February 27 and in the following week would travel to New York to report to the UN Security Council and then Washington for talks with the US government, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


"Economic issues are of vital importance," he said, underlining it was crucial to create better living conditions in both Kosovo and Serbia.