03 June 2007

Analysis: Kosovo's long walk

United Press International, By EDITH HONAN


UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- With a draft recommendation from the United Nations' special envoy for Kosovo now on the table, the former Yugoslav province -- and U.N. protectorate since 1999 -- has moved one step closer to independence.


While refraining from use of the word independence, the plan gives Kosovo the right to govern itself and envisions the drafting of a constitution, which would almost certainly declare Kosovo free.


"The settlement package that I have presented to both parties today represents a compromise proposal," Martti Ahtisaari, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's envoy to Kosovo said at news conferences in Belgrade and Pristina, the Serbian and Kosovar capitals. "I am willing to consider constructive amendments and I'm willing to integrate compromise solutions that the parties might reach."


A political resolution to Kosovo's final status remains weeks, if not months, off. Pending advice from the two capitals, Ahtisaari will submit a revised proposal to the secretary-general.


The document will then be circulated to the 15-member U.N. Security Council, which has been sharply divided on the Kosovo issue. Russia in particular, one of five veto-wielding members, has voiced skepticism over independence.


It is not clear how, if at all, Belgrade and Pristina can be brought closer together. Albanians in Kosovo, who make up 90 percent of the population, have called for outright independence, while Serbia has rejected the idea.


The fate of the 100,000 ethnic Serbs living in the province has been one of the central concerns addressed in negotiations.


Since NATO forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid brutal ethnic fighting, Serbian Orthodox Churches have been subject to frequent acts of vandalism and ethnic Serb communities have complained they feel anything but secure.


If Kosovo is to be made independent, it is unclear what precedent exists, if any, to guide that process. In fact, to the view of some countries, it is Kosovo that will play the role of standard-bearer.


Under Ahtisaari's proposal, a European Union official would have ultimate supervisory authority over civilian aspects of the settlement, including the power to annul laws and remove officials.


The constitution would emphasize Kosovo's multi-ethnic culture, and the flag and national anthem would also represent the full national character of Kosovo. Kosovo would have no official religion and the Albanian and Serbian languages would be given equal status.


An international military presence, led by NATO, would, for a finite period, serve as the backbone of Kosovo's security.


Non-Albanians would be guaranteed a place in key public institutions and certain laws may only be enacted if a majority of the Kosovo non-Albanian legislative members agree.


The plan also calls for wide-ranging decentralization, focusing in particular on the specific needs and concerns of the Serb community, which will have a high degree of control over its own affairs, including health care, higher education and financial matters, including accepting transparent funding from Serbia. Six new or significantly expanded Kosovo Serb majority municipalities will be set up. Kosovo's justice system is to be integrated, independent, professional and impartial, ensuring access to all, with the judiciary and prosecution service reflecting its multi ethnic character.


Provisions on religious and cultural heritage will ensure the unfettered and undisturbed operation of the Serbian Orthodox Church and 45 Protective Zones will surround key religious and cultural sites.


Once the settlement enters into force, there will be a 120-day transition period during which the mandate of the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo will stay unchanged.


During this period, the Kosovo Assembly, in consultation with an international representative, will be responsible for approving a constitution and the legislation necessary for the implementation of the plan.


At the end of the period, the U.N. mission's mandate will expire and all legislative and executive authority vested in it will be transferred to the Kosovo authorities. Within nine months general and local elections will be held.


Kosovo, which is nearly the size of Connecticut, was an autonomous region within the Yugoslav federation until 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic began to exert tighter control over the province and strip ethnic Albanians of some of their rights. Belgrade's brutal crackdown on guerrilla rebellions in Kosovo led to the NATO intervention of 1999. The province was granted autonomy, and has since been overseen by the United Nations, which has taken the lead in brokering Kosovo's final status.