Kosovo – some progress

The decision to allow freedom of movement for KFOR suggests a readiness among the northern Kosovo Serbs to find a way to defuse the threat of violence created by Pristina’s efforts to unilaterally change the situation on the ground.

By Gerard Gallucci

According to various reports, the northern Kosovo Serbs have opened one lane in each of the two roads heading north to the Gate 1 and 31 boundary crossing points to allow KFOR to more easily – and cheaply – supply its forces.  They also will partially open a few barricades elsewhere.  Others will remain, however, and local leaders have indicated that the Serbs will be watching what passes through.  Whilst providing this freedom on movement for KFOR, they still refuse to allow the same for EULEX until it reaches an agreement with Belgrade on not transporting Kosovo customs to the boundary crossings.  The mayor of Zubin Potok expressed hope that “KFOR will respect our decision and not abuse it.”

KFOR called the northerner’s decision “a good first step”, but repeated KFOR’s “demand” for “unconditional freedom for KFOR, EULEX mission, other institutions and citizens.”  KFOR called on the Serbs to “stop their activities and completely remove the barricades.”

The decision by local leaders to open the roads for KFOR logistical requirements is a wise one.  It should decrease the immediate threat of further conflict and allow time for dialogue, whilst giving KFOR the opportunity to demonstrate that it has returned to status neutral peacekeeping.  It should also allow time for Belgrade and EULEX to reach an understanding of how they might deal with the customs issue in a status neutral manner.

The northerners were no doubt under considerable pressure from Belgrade to find a way to avoid further confrontation with NATO.  Serbia’s president, Boris Tadić, must somehow find a way to appear to be meeting EU demands on north Kosovo, whilst at the same time not having the issue re-ignite nationalist feelings about “losing” Kosovo.  That the Kosovo winds are again blowing strong in the Serbian body politic is suggested by reported comments by deputy prime minister, Ivica Dačić, suggesting that if Serbia cannot have all of Kosovo anymore, it should take the north.

Furthermore, the decision to partially open the roads also suggests readiness among the northern Kosovo Serbs to find a way to defuse the threat of violence created by Pristina’s efforts in July to change things on the ground through unilateral actions.  Given KFOR’s inability to resolve the crisis through further use of force, it opens up a chance for it and EULEX to back out quietly of the box Pristina – and the US? – made for them.

The next steps need not be taken out loud.  It might be better for quiet understandings and compromise actions.  This would be real peacekeeping.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.

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