Kosovo – another attempt to abolish the UN in the north?

Should the Kosovo government end funding of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Administration in Mitrovica (UAM), it will cut-off one of the few institutional linkages between north Mitrovica and Pristina.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The Pristina press is reporting on secret meetings between the Kosovo government, the US ambassador and chief of the International Civilian Office (ICO), Pieter Feith, on a new plan to push the UN out of the north. According to Koha Ditore, the three have agreed to close the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Administration in Mitrovica (UAM) that administers north Mitrovica under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Koha Ditore says it has the document, titled “Kosovo Government carries over the financing of the municipal services in the north from UAM to AONM.” It refers to an action plan aiming at the closure of UAM by March 31 and its replacement with an “Temporary Administrative Office for North Mitrovica” (AONM) under the authority of Pristina and to be placed in the mixed neighborhood of Bosniak Mahalla. The plan is said to contain 10 actions which were due to begin implementation early this month. Space and equipment for the AONM were to be secured by February 10th, with a meeting with the UNMIK SRSG on the 17th to inform him that the Kosovo government would cease funding UAM.

What exactly the Quint and Pristina may be planning, and how far along they are, remains unclear. The leaks to the press could be a bluff, feint or trial balloon. However, a Pristina think tank has just published a paper fleshing out what could be the plans being considered. KIPRED’s paper – “A Comprehensive Vision For The North: The Final Countdown” is a professionally done effort to prod the Kosovo government and its international supporters to undertake ten actions to overcome the status quo of “criminals and extremists” in the north. KIPRED calls for imposing its “non-negotiable” plan there “supported politically and operationally by EU, USA and NATO.” The actions include forming transitional local governments for the four northern Serb-majority municipalities, withdrawal of “parallel security institutions,” imposition of Kosovo courts and police in the north supported by EULEX and KFOR and closing UAM. KIPRED requires as well that the Ahtisaari Plan be implemented as it is.

KIPRED criticizes the EU, EULEX and NATO for not doing enough to bring the north under control by now and notes the failure of the ICO “northern strategy” in 2010. It welcomes the recent efforts by Germany to pressure Serbian president, Boris Tadic, to give up the north and applauds Pristina’s effort last July to seize the northern boundary posts with its special police.

Putting this all together, and supposing where there is “smoke” there is at least some “fire,” there could be less here than meets the eye. It may well be that Pieter Feith and the departing US ambassador want to leave on a “high note” by providing for Pristina the framework for a virtual administration for the north. Koha Ditore reports that the Kosovo government will inform UNMIK that it is stopping its funding of UAM. This would essentially “cut off the nose to spite its face” because the funding has helped all communities there and has kept open one of the few institutional linkages between north Mitrovica and Pristina. Diverting that funding to a new office in the “safe” part of north Mitrovica would change little on the ground, but help Pristina claim a presence there. Belgrade funding for the Serbian municipality for north Mitrovica would not be affected. UAM might lose its current role but under UNSCR 1244, UNMIK must retain an office there as it does in the other three northern municipalities.

It would be another matter, of course, if the Quint was ready to impose the other elements of the KIPRED plan. This could only be attempted through force and vigorous repression by KFOR and EULEX. But this would most likely lead to conflict and perhaps partition through violence.

Perhaps the Quint and Pristina are relying on their pressure on Tadic to lead him to surrender the north to get EU candidacy. They have not been as vocal as Belgrade about next week’s referendum in the north. Perhaps they would find the vote a convenient excuse for Belgrade to cut funding for the northerners – public salaries and such – to force them into Pristina’s arms? It is difficult to see Tadic paying the political costs for that and it is far from certain that the northerners would simply give-up.

This may all be a shadow game to increase pressure on the Serbs – especially those in north Kosovo – before getting serious about negotiating. It must be clear by now that the only peaceful solution available will be that gained through dialogue and compromise.

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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