Global Policy Forum

United Nations Group Ends Mission to Kosovo


By Micholas Wood

New York Times
April 28, 2007

A United Nations Security Council fact-finding mission completed a two-day trip to Kosovo on Saturday, amid an increasingly tense debate between Russia and the United States over the province's future. Representatives of the Council - including ambassadors - toured the province, meeting members of the majority ethnic Albanian community and ethnic Serbs to gain a better understanding of a plan that would grant Kosovo independence. That plan was drawn up by Martti Ahtisaari, the United Nations special envoy for the future status of Kosovo.

Speaking on Saturday, the leader of the delegation, Johan Verbeke, the Belgian ambassador to the United Nations, said the Council needed time to consider the proposal. "Deciding on important issues should never be hostage to predetermined deadlines," Mr. Verbeke said. "You have to give it natural space and time in order for all parties of the Security Council to feel at ease with the solution."

Officials from the United States, which assumes the presidency of the Security Council in May, have suggested that the Council could vote on the plan in a matter of weeks. But while the United States and its European allies want to implement the plan as soon as possible, Russia has sought to start new negotiations between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians and has implied it might veto Mr. Ahtisaari's plan. The Security Council has not yet indicated if it is ready to put the plan to a vote.

Under Mr. Ahtisaari's plan, Kosovo is to be granted independence, but with international oversight of a European-led mission that would look out for the interests of the ethnic Serbs. The province is internationally recognized as part of Serbia, but has been run by the United Nations since June 1999. Serbia was forced to cede its authority over the province by a 78-day NATO-led bombing campaign after Serbian-dominated Yugoslav security forces were accused of committing widespread atrocities against ethnic Albanians. Over the past year, Mr. Ahtisaari conducted negotiations on Kosovo's future between ethnic Albanians and Serb leaders, but the talks in Vienna faltered in February. The ethnic Albanians want independence, but Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Serbs are against that. As a result, Mr. Ahtisaari concluded that only an imposed solution resolving Kosovo's status could work, and submitted his plan to the Security Council. Russia, an ally of Serbia, requested this week's fact-finding mission, suggesting that the council had not been fully apprised of the reality in Kosovo. Mr. Verbeke's statement appeared to suggest that at least some member states were not ready to agree to an imminent vote.

United Nations officials present at some of the ambassadors' meetings with local politicians said that the South African representative, Dumisani S. Kumalo, had openly voiced reservations about the speed with which the United Nations was considering implementing Mr. Ahtisaari's proposal, and said that no alternatives appeared to have been discussed. Mr. Kumalo was unavailable for comment. In the past week, Russian criticism of Mr. Ahtisaari's plan has grown, with its deputy foreign minister, Vladimir Titov, warning it would "not get through the Security Council." As one of the five permanent members of the Council, Russia has the right to veto any resolution.

On Friday, Vitaly Cherkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that Serbia's proposal - in which Kosovo would be granted autonomy with some powers returning to authorities in Belgrade - should be looked at as the basis for new negotiations between the two sides. "Since no other theme except Kosovo's status was discussed at the talks with Ahtisaari, it would probably make sense to study Belgrade's initiative," Mr. Cherkin, who was on the fact-finding mission, told the Itar Tass news agency.

But in an interview Friday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, said he remained optimistic that the Russians could work with Mr. Ahtisaari's plan. "We hope to reach an understanding with Russia," said Mr. Khalilzad, who was also on the United Nations trip. And on Saturday, Daniel Fried, an assistant secretary of state, took a harder tone. "We hope that Russia understands that Kosovo is going to be independent one way or another," Mr. Fried said at a forum in Brussels on trans-Atlantic relations, Reuters reported. "It will either be done in a controlled, supervised way that provides for the well-being of the Serbian people, or it will take place in an uncontrolled way, and the Kosovo Serbs will suffer the most, which would be terrible."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbs used the visit by the United Nations group to deliver impassioned defenses of their views, as the ambassadors were brought on a tour of sites marked by a decade of turbulence. (The locations themselves were a matter of intense negotiation between Russia and the United States, according to American and United Nations officials, with each site seen as favorable to either Serbs or Albanians.) On Friday afternoon, delegates were able to walk through the divided city of Mitrovica, from the Albanian-dominated South, to the Serb-dominated North, across the city's main bridge. A roadside banner on the ethnic Serbian side, written in English, read: "In the name of God and justice, do not give our Holy Land as a present to the Albanians."

In Svinjare, a Serb village a mile to the south of Mitrovica, the ambassadors were shown houses that had been burned down by ethnic Albanians during riots in March 2004, in which more than 4,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Kosovo's Albanian-dominated government has since rebuilt the village, but only one man has returned to live there. On Saturday, the ambassadors were driven to Krushe e Vogel, an ethnic Albanian village where 113 men and boys were shot and then burned by their Serbian neighbors and paramilitary forces on March 26, 1999

More Information on the Security Council
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