Kosovo – the end of UNSCR 1244?

It is increasingly clear that those working under a UN Security Council mandate for peacekeeping are abandoning that very mandate in order to enforce a “solution” favourable to one side alone.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

In the last few weeks we have seen a series of setbacks to the chances for a compromise solution for north Kosovo and some sort of mutually-accepted closure to the Kosovo status issue. There’s been Pristina’s new effort to close out the UN role in north Mitrovica by creating a Potemkin administration there and KFOR’s June 1 assault on the northern Kosovo Serb community in the name of its UN mandate. Whatever anyone in the Quint has convinced themselves of, these moves have zeroed out northern Kosovo Serb trust in the international community and reduced the chances for them accepting a compromise with Pristina.

Now, UNMIK itself may be preparing to jettison UNSCR 1244 by turning over its northern Mitrovica office (UAM) to the Pristina government. And EULEX is once again stepping outside its UN mandate by getting ready to enforce Pristina’s version of an agreement with Belgrade over license plates. What happens when everyone working under a UN Security Council mandate for peacekeeping abandons that mandate to enforce a “solution” favorable to one side alone? We may unfortunately find out with the people of Kosovo paying the price.

There may be some difference of opinion within UNMIK HQ over whether and how UAM should go out of business and possibly turn over its files and data to the new Pristina office, provocatively based in the mixed Bosniak Mahalla neighborhood of north Mitrovica. While it would not be any violation of 1244 to close UAM – and it may be time to transform it into simply a municipal representative office – it would seem to be beyond the UNSC mandate to turn over its working documents to the UDI government in Pristina (or its ICO agent). The UNSC has not replaced 1244 or recognized in any way the Pristina government as the successor to UNMIK under the Resolution. DPKO typically allows important decisions to the mission HQ. This did not work out so well in March 2008. Should the current UNMIK leadership be left to decide such a fundamental question on its own, it will be up to SRSG Zarif to protect Security Council prerogatives or cede to the Quint and Pristina. UAM’s “data files” are mostly already shared with Pristina. The issue is symbolic. Pristina wants UNMIK to give it the “documents” because it sees it as a form of recognition of its office as the new legal government for north Mitrovica. UNMIK would have no business providing such recognition; it would be dangerous to do so as it would embolden the Kosovo Albanian leadership – and KFOR and EULEX? – to take further provocative actions in the north. (Efforts to get a comment from UNMIK HQ have been met with silence.)

Then there is the matter of the Serbian license plates. Belgrade and Pristina agreed last year on a regime for using each others’ plates. Details have never really been made clear. Now Pristina is saying it will confiscate all Serbian plates in Kosovo and EULEX says it will enforce this in the north. Belgrade disputes the agreement was ever supposed to apply north of the Ibar. EULEX has no mandate for enforcing one side’s version of the agreement. It’s only mandate for rule of law in Kosovo came from the UN Secretary General in November 2008. The local Serbs have responded by declaring EULEX unwelcome in the north. Any effort to enforce the ban on Serbian plates in the north will likely lead to even greater conflict than we have seen so far.

As noted before, it may be that some in the Quint have supported aggressive steps by NATO, the EU and the Kosovo government as a “softening-up” process before Belgrade and the northern Kosovo Serbs finally accept a “negotiated” surrender to Pristina. The Quint wants to shake off their “boots” of the Kosovo mess this year and may think the Serbs are ready to finally fall to one more determined use of coercion. (Pristina is fine with playing along because it doesn’t really want negotiations.) None of this is peacekeeping under a UN mandate. There no longer seems any good reason to hold out hopes for a mutual compromise negotiated through direct dialogue including the northerners. Indeed, if even the UN caves into this shameful approach to achieving “lasting peace” in the Balkans, what hope can there be for avoiding further conflict and possible ethnic cleansing?

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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