Kosovo – an end to the northern crisis?

The new agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on the crossing points, plus the removal of some barricades, may provide an opportunity to finally end the current crisis in the north that began on July 25th.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

According to various sources, the northern Kosovo Serbs have begun removing barricades after an agreement with KFOR.  At the site in Zubin Potok that was the scene of recent clashes, KFOR will keep a checkpoint that will now include local Kosovo police. It is also reported that barricades on the road to Gate 1 in Leposavic are coming down.  It is not yet clear if all the barricades will be removed or just some.

There is some expectation that the new agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on the crossing points, plus the removal of some barricades, might lead to the EU deciding favorably on Serbia’s EU candidacy.  As long as nothing else negative happens in the next few days, it at least will make it harder for Germany and others to deny Serbia.

The real story, however, may be that finally an opportunity has been created to end the current crisis in the north that began on July 25th.  The decision by the northern Serbs to at least test whether KFOR and EULEX are willing now to return to acting within their UN mandate is a wise and courageous one.  The actions by KFOR and EULEX over the last few months to impose Kosovo customs at the northern boundary have given the local community in the north absolutely no reason to trust them.  However, within the context of the new agreement – which offers a framework for a status neutral approach to the northern crossing points – and to help remove any excuses for Berlin to veto Serbian candidacy, the northerners have apparently decided to act as if they do.  It is now up to KFOR and EULEX to perform their duties as peacekeepers as mandated by UNSCR 1244 and not to seek to further the political agenda of any one side.

Now some words on “status neutral” and “trust.”

Some have questioned the value and meaning of “status neutral.”  The term derives from UNSCR 1244, which does not settle the question of the status of Kosovo but provides for peacekeeping while that status is resolved.  “Status neutral” does not mean – nor does it prevent – each side claiming that status has been decided.  Pristina and its supporters assert Kosovo independence, whilst Serbia and Serbs deny it.  “Status neutral” does, however, establish a mandatory approach for those international elements – namely KFOR, EULEX and UNMIK – acting under the UN mandate in Kosovo.  A status neutral framework for the northern boundary would simply mean that both sides accept neutral practical arrangements while the political dispute continues.  Status neutral does not mean either side has given up their views on Kosovo’s political status.

Some question how KFOR and EULEX can be trusted to remain neutral and carry out any agreements reached in a status neutral manner.  Indeed, they have good reason to question these two Quint agents. It is not, however, really a matter of trust.  The northern Kosovo Serbs have demonstrated – by their determined and peaceful resistance to the effort to impose a new political order on them – that they must be part of any process to achieve a stable and peaceful accommodation over the north.  Their actions to protect what they see as the interests of their community are their ultimate guarantee.  Nothing lasting can be done without them.  Hopefully, KFOR and EULEX will not again be used to try and settle the northern issue through force.  Clearly that does not work.

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.

To read TransConflict’s recently-released policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

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