UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented his Kosovo status proposal to Serbian and Kosovar leaders in Belgrade and Pristina on February 2. The proposal, which must be voted on by the UN Security Council, does not explicitly declare that Kosovo will receive independence. However, it does provide that Kosovo will receive some of the same characteristics that a state would receive under international law. The proposal accepts that Kosovo will have its own anthem, army, constitution, and the right to apply for membership in international organizations, including financial organizations such as the World Bank and IMF, while also stipulating that Kosovo govern itself democratically according to the rule of law procedures. In implementing the plan, Kosovo would enter a 120 day transition period during which the role of UNMIK would remain unchanged. During the transition period, the Kosovo Assembly would be expected to approve a constitution and legislation necessary to implement Ahtisaari’s plan; many elements of the constitution would be inserted by international negotiators according to terms of the proposal.
UNMIK would then be followed by an EU administrator for an indefinite period of time. The EU official would have the power to veto legislation and remove government officials, similar to the Office of the High Representative established in Bosnia by the Dayton Agreement.
Reactions to Ahtisaari’s proposal were strongly negative in Belgrade. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic predictably rejected the plan, noting that it would remove Kosovo from Serbian sovereignty and claiming that it offered too many rights to Kosovo and would be unfair to the Kosovo Serb minority. Both Serbian leaders insisted there would be no circumstances within which Belgrade would accept an independent Kosovo. Serb Orthodox Bishop Artemije also rejected the plan; a separate statement from the Serb Orthodox Church angrily suggested that Ahtisaari consider carving a piece out of Finland to give it away.
Kosovo Albanian leaders generally welcomed the proposal but were not completely pleased with all aspects of Ahtisaari’s plan. Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Agim Ceku, suggested that the plan did not fully meet his government’s expectations, focusing in particular on the failure of the plan to explicitly declare Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo Albanian leaders, however, did believe that the plan offered minority Serbs adequate protections and sufficient voice in Kosovo’s political decisions.
Ahtisaari’s plan entails granting Serbs six new Serb-administered municipalities, which will be given extensive municipal autonomy. Each of the Serb-administered municipalities will be able to accept transparent funding from Serbia. Serbian minority protections will also be monitored by an international security presence in Kosovo.
Two significant Kosovo groups have announced opposition to the proposal: an association of veterans from the 1998-99 fighting, and a public movement known as Vetevendosja, headed by Albin Kurti. Vetevendosja brought 2-3,000 Kosovars into the streets of Pristina on Saturday for a demonstration that criticized the Ahtisaari plan and the Kosovar negotiators—known as the Unity Team—who accepted it. The
demonstration led to a confrontation with the police that turned violent, leading to the deaths of at least two protesters, wounding of around 70 others, and arrest of nearly a dozen including Kurti.
On Sunday, the Unity Team issued a statement condemning the violence and urging the public to remain calm. Meanwhile, Russia has yet to determine how it will respond to Ahtisaari’s plan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Moscow has strong differences with the U.S. and EU over how to resolve Kosovo’s final status. He demanded that further negotiations take place but claimed that Russia would not use its UN Security Council veto to block implementation of the plan. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Lavrov criticized Ahtisaari’s proposals for, among other things, failing to allow displaced Serbs to return to their Kosovo homes. Lavrov said he believed that Ahtisaari’s proposals should have offered more protections to Kosovo Serbs. He also suggested that he could not envision the Security Council accepting the current plan, suggesting that any attempt to present it to the Security Council would be futile, despite his assurances that Russia would not use its veto powers to block the plan. Likewise, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov claimed that granting Kosovo independence could create a “chain reaction” in which other territories and separatist groups would declare their own independence.
NORTHERN KOSOVO SECESSION?
Oliver Ivanovic, a Serb politician in northern Kosovo, has suggested that municipalities in northern Kosovo will attempt to secede from Kosovo to rejoin Serbia should Ahtisaari’s plan be approved by the Security Council and Kosovo then declare independence. If these municipalities secede, there are fears of ethnic reprisals against small Serb enclaves in other areas of Kosovo by ethnic Albanians. Some moderate Kosovo Serb politicians have been willing to accept an independent Kosovo; however, their political support among Serb communities is negligible. Additionally, many Serb municipalities draw upon heavy financial assistance from Belgrade, raising the question over whether Pristina would be able to effectively exercise any sovereign authority over them without coercion. Northern Kosovo has been under de facto Belgrade control since the end of the war in 1999.
The gulf between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians is probably most pronounced in the divided town of Mitrovica, where the Serbian government has established what it has called the “University of Pristina, Temporarily Located in Mitrovica.”
RICE URGES QUICK RESOLUTION.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in testimony delivered to the House Foreign Affairs Committee reiterated her support for a quick resolution of Kosovo’s status. Rice stated she believes that the longer Kosovo’s status goes unaddressed, the more likely a “breakdown in order” is to occur. Meanwhile, several American lawmakers also recently traveled to Kosovo, where they met with Prime Minister Agim Ceku. The delegation, led by Sen. Joe Lieberman also included Senators John McCain, John Kyl, Lindsey Graham and Johnny Isakson, plus Representatives Howard Berman, Mark Udall and Dave Reichert.
FINAL KOSOVO TALKS LATER THIS MONTH.
The UN also recently announced that it has accepted Serbian requests to delay further talks in Vienna regarding Kosovo until later this month. The talks are to be held on February 21. The Kosovo Albanian government was reluctant to accept the delay, which the Serbian delegation had requested because of ongoing efforts to form a new
governing coalition following parliamentary elections. Ahtisaari has acknowledged his willingness to consider amendments to his plan at the Vienna talks. However, he also acknowledged on February 9 that he saw no chance of an agreement between Serbs and Kosovars “even if I negotiated all my life.”
“We need to recognize the longer this drags out, the more likely we are to have a breakdown in order in Kosovo itself.”—U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, commenting on the need to resolve Kosovo’s final status during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (AP, 2/7/07).
“This is a critical period now. We're looking forward to the implementation of those recommendations as Kosovo moves on to achieve its rightful status as an independent
nation.”—Senator Joseph Lieberman, commenting on the Ahtisaari proposal during a
trip to Kosovo (AP, 2/9/07).
“So far we don't have a common view how to resolve this problem. Kosovo is a topic on which, in contrast to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, the divergence in our positions has a character of principle.”—Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (AP, 2/3/07).
Prepared by John Sannar