Kosovo – Pristina doesn’t really want negotiations on the north

The May 17 arrest of a young Serb employee of UNMIK’s north Mitrovica office suggests that the Kosovo Albanians have no intention of accepting a negotiated outcome for the region north of the Ibar River.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

The May 17 arrest of a young Serb employee of UNMIK’s north Mitrovica office removes any good reason for resisting the judgement that the Kosovo Albanians have no intention of accepting a negotiated outcome for the region north of the Ibar River. They do not want negotiations on the north, they just want the north. So, to head off any possibility of having to accept compromise, they will provoke the Serbs there into refusing to deal with them.

The young man arrested frequently travelled to visit family in the mixed north Mitrovica village of Suvi Do. To get there, he’d have to pass through an Albanian area. At that point, he would also have to pass by a unit of the so-called “regional” Kosovo police that EULEX allows free reign in this sensitive area. His routines were known. He could have been stopped at any time, as any of the Serbs living there can be. The decision to arrest him at this point on “suspicion” that he was involved in a demonstration in April to prevent the Kosovo Albanian police from setting up another provocative checkpoint – where there had just been a deadly explosion – was clearly political. (EULEX has still not managed to release any information on who might have been responsible for the explosion.) Many, many Serbs turned out for this. The targeting of a local UNMIK employee also allowed Pristina to take another shot at the UN office in north Mitrovica.

A cynic might say that the arrest was Pristina’s way of “recruiting” Serbs to take part in its “dialogue” over the north that it plans to unilaterally launch in September. The truth, however, is more basic than that. The Kosovo Albanians do not want to negotiate over the north, they want to have their “rule of law” imposed there so that they can use it to enforce more “returns” and eventually push the Serbs out entirely. They expected the internationals to do this for them; first UNMIK, then the ICO and EULEX. Having failed in that, they have mounted steady provocations since July 2011. Now they see the internationals pushing them to talk with the northern Serbs. So they provoke the Serbs, either to set off violence that they can use to justify new repression or to simply strengthen the hands of those Serbs opposed to talks.

One might hope that through dialogue, a possible agreement along the lines of the Ahtisaari Plan was possible. This would keep the north as part of Kosovo while providing for local self-rule and maintenance of ties with Serbia. The Kosovo Albanian leadership, however, has no intention of ever accepting that. And their international supporters – the Quint – appear not to have the stomach for imposing it on them. EULEX cannot even prevent the “police” from acting more like an ethnic-cleansing squad. The Quint capitals allow the Kosovo Albanians to make barely veiled threats to destabilize the region – even provoking incidents in south Serbia and Macedonia – if they don’t get everything they want. They give the game, by default, to Pristina.

Pristina knew the Serbs would get the message in the arrest of the young UN employee: “forget this negotiations stuff, you know we’ll never accept any terms but your surrender.” Only the internationals fail to understand.

It is interesting to note that the centuries long effort by the Irish to win their independence from the English eventually ended with two agreements: the first to recognize Irish independence and the second to accept that northern Ireland would remain part of the UK. No one considered leaving northern Ireland within the United Kingdom as a “partition.” Perhaps it time to admit that the same approach may be the only real solution for the region north of the Ibar, to recognize that it remains part of Serbia. The partition was the creation of an Albanian-majority Kosovo out of Serbia. No reason the Albanians should take the north too. That remains mostly Serb and part of Serbia.

As things now stand, the next government in Belgrade might petition the UN to allow them to send back their police to the Ibar border. Even if refused, Serbia could move down its police anyway. NATO would probably stand aside and perhaps even secretly sigh in relief.

The Kosovo Albanians would huff and puff and threaten regional violence. They would probably step up attacks on Serbs living in the south. In this case, the proper response would fall to NATO. It’s time, however, to accept that left to themselves, the current Kosovo leadership will do everything to avoid compromise, including threats, intimidation and provocation to block any effort to deny them the north on their terms. Only the strongest pressure from the US and EU – plus real peacekeeping along the Ibar by KFOR, EULEX and UNMIK – offers a stable alternative to the return of Serbia in the north.

Which will it be, Quint?

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 policy paper, written by Gerard and entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

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

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s new reading lists series by clicking here.

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