21 March 2007

More time needed to define Kosovo's status: former UNMIK chief


Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 21 Dec 2006

BRUSSELS, Dec 21, 2006 (AFP) - The former head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo warned Thursday that more time would be needed to define the Serbian province's future status and urged the European Union to play a greater role.

"It's going to take longer than planned," Bernard Kouchner, who ran the province's UNMIK mission from July 1999 to January 2000, told reporters in Brussels.

"I think there is no other solution, and we will achieve it, than to find a status somewhere between wider autonomy and a programmed independence, controlled, with troops, a timetable, etcetera," he said.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign ended a crackdown by Belgrade on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels in the province.

UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari began often-difficult negotiations in February with Serbian and Kosovo authorities to define the future status of the province, defined by the Serb constitution as an integral part of the country.

He was due to make recommendations to the UN by the end of the year, but has now said that he will reveal his plans for the future of the majority ethnic-Albanian region after the general elections in Serbia on January 21.

But Kosovo's aspirations for independence have fomented nationalist tensions during the election campaign.

"I believe that Europe is too absent in Kosovo," Kouchner said. "The European Union should be far more present and far more implicated in these negotiations."

"The European Union has to say things clearly for Kosovo," he went on.

It must "say to countries who are interested in this war or this peace: 'You will not enter the European Union as long as there is an ethnic conflict or any attempt at conflict'."

The EU regularly voices support for Ahtisaari, but it is also struggling to strike a balance between encouraging moderate forces in Serbia without angering people in Kosovo.

On Friday, EU leaders sent Serbia a signal that its future lies in Europe, despite having frozen talks in May on closer ties over Belgrade's failure to fully cooperate with the UN war crimes court.