Kosovo – peace not self-enforcing

If KFOR’s request – for complete freedom of movement for everyone – is to be taken seriously, it must go on record that it will prevent unilateral and provocative actions by both sides, and act strictly within its UN mandate.

By Gerard Gallucci

KFOR’s public reaction to the northern Serb’s partial opening of barricades does not yet appear to embrace a peacekeeping approach.  It is removing barricades in the dead of night while the KFOR commander says he will not use the freedom of movement (FOM) offered by the Serbs “because it does not apply to EULEX, for which we cannot check whether the full freedom of movement exists.”

General Drews explained that KFOR’s demand remains that “unconditional and permanent freedom of movement should be provided for all international missions, including KFOR, EULEX and all others organizations and citizens…Until this happens, KFOR will not use the given freedom of movement. There will not be any division between KFOR and our international partners in Kosovo.”  Asked if the FOM KFOR demands includes Kosovo police, Drews reportedly replied that the police in northern Kosovo should also be able to work.  While apparently sidestepping the question if that includes Kosovo Albanian police, Drews said that “on the other side, I trust that the Kosovo government will act prudently and in keeping with the situation.”

It is understandable the KFOR may be trying to avoid statements that suggest it has backed away from efforts to impose Kosovo customs and authority on the northern boundary crossings.  The suggestion, however, that it should be up to the Pristina government to exercise restraint and not unilaterally use FOM to send its police and customs officers to the north cannot be credited at this juncture given the Kosovo government’s threat to launch police operations in the north.

For KFOR’s request – for complete FOM for everyone – to be taken seriously, it must go on record that it will prevent unilateral and provocative actions by both sides.  The risk, should the northern Serbs simply accept Drews’ “trust” in Pristina, would be that another effort to impose Kosovo customs on the boundary would be followed by a new confrontation that would be much harder to settle by dialogue.  Any barricades that the northern Kosovo Serbs remove – or that KFOR removes – could be quickly replaced.  The stage would be set for real confrontation and the possibility for violence would increase.

To repeat what is obvious – KFOR and EULEX’s effort to impose Kosovo customs on the northern boundary is outside its UN Security Council Resolution 1244 mandate and has nothing to do with enforcing rule of law.  It was an effort to enforce the law of the jungle.  The Serbian government – however anxious not to displease Brussels by being too direct – has had to publicly draw the conclusion that KFOR and EULEX have been serving Pristina.  The ICJ in 2010 upheld the mandate of the UN in Kosovo, and it is the only authority under which KFOR and EULEX may act legally within Kosovo.   It is a matter of “rule of law” that KFOR and EULEX remain status neutral.

It is also a matter of keeping the peace for KFOR and EULEX to act strictly under their UN mandate.  Peace does not keep itself.  The peacekeepers cannot simply back away and expect everyone to behave.  Pristina caused the current crisis by acting unilaterally in July.  KFOR cannot expect the northerners to simply take it on faith that Pristina will not again seek to provoke violence.

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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