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UN Probes Kosovo Independence

Prepared by: Robert McMahon, Editor
Updated: February 7, 2007

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UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which has governed the lives of Kosovo’s two million residents for nearly eight years, says residents of the Serbian province shall have “substantial autonomy and self-government” pending a final political settlement. It was a nimble way of ending a war and preserving big power harmony but it has also left the province in an international limbo that all sides agree is not healthy. Serbs want the territory, with ties dating back many centuries, returned. Ethnic Albanians, in de facto control of the province, insist on immediate independence. UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari proposes a compromise in which Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian dominated government will be given the trappings of statehood such as an army and constitution but remain under international supervision for an undefined interim period.

Ahtisaari presented his plan in Belgrade and the provincial capital of Pristina for the first time on Friday.The reaction in Serbia, and from its historic ally, Russia, has been decidedly mixed, with Serbia firmly rejecting it (RFE/RL) while Russia has said that Belgrade and Pristina need to work out a solution bilaterally (B92). Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku insists Serbs will be able to remain in an independent Kosovo and live there with dignity (SE European Times). But Serbs appear skeptical, with even moderate politicians warning any move toward independence likely would push northern Kosovo—the areas around Mitrovica which is predominantly ethnic Serb—to seek to break away and join Serbia (NYT). U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried tells CFR.org in a new interview that Belgrade needs to shift its stance on Kosovo or it faces a future remote from the rest of Europe. Without engaging in talks on the Kosovo’s governing structure, Fried says, “Serbia exists in kind of an outer orbit in sullen isolation, and nobody wants that.”

Analysts will be watching carefully for signs of internal frictions—which never abated after the 1999 war—igniting a new round of ethnic fighting. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) seventeen thousand forces in the province are bracing for any signs of unrest by a disgruntled majority (Reuters). An ethnic Albanian uprising in 2004 killed nearly twenty people and destroyed Serb churches and cultural sites. A similar outburst now could significantly set back the final status process. But Tihomir Loza of Transitions Online, a journal focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, says it is wrong to expect a violent backlash to the plan, saying conditions are ripe for acceptance despite the seeming incompatibility of the parties. “All the signs in Pristina are that the Kosovo Albanian leaders understand full well that all they are required to do now is behave themselves for a change,” Loza writes.

However, critics, like Professor Timothy William Waters of Indiana University’s School of Law, says the plan offers “a half state on the whole territory.” He says the best way to fulfill the ethnic Albanians’ right of independence while assuring the safety of the main remaining Serb minority is partition (NYT)—returning the Serb-populated north of the province to the rest of Serbia in exchange for immediate recognition and streamlined governance without international supervision. But the Contact Group on Kosovo, consisting mostly of permanent UN Security Council members, has rejected such a plan outright, insisting on governance reforms on the whole territory. Crucial will be how Russia treats the plan -- it helped broker the compromise that resulted in the UN protectorate in Kosovo but has hinted the price for Kosovo's independence might be reconsideration of the separatist claims of a pair of regions in Georgia, a U.S. ally.

CFR Special Report | USIP Kosovo Report | CRS: Kosovo’s Future

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