Kosovo – some hope but bigger dangers?

The agreement initialled by the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo offers on only an outline of a possible approach. Even if everyone accepted this outline, many important details remain to be clarified before anything could be implemented. And the northern Kosovo Serbs already seem on the verge of rejecting it.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The April 19 agreement initialled by the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo offers hope and danger. It offers the substance of real local autonomy to the northern Kosovo Serbs. But it says nothing about links to Serbia, instead emphasizing that the north would be subject to the “laws” of Kosovo. Both sides claim victory. Pristina says it amounts to recognition. Belgrade claims it met all of Serbia’s demands. The EU has declared victory and is suggesting readiness to grant Serbia a provisional start date for EU accession talks. But the agreement is only an outline of a possible approach. Even if everyone accepted this outline, many important details remain to be clarified before anything could be implemented. And the northern Kosovo Serbs already seem on the verge of rejecting it.

The agreement offers elements of real local autonomy. It provides procedures consistent with the Ahtisaari Plan for choosing local police commanders and goes beyond to provide for a regional commander for the Serb-majority north that would be nominated by the four northern mayors. It would create a separate division of the Appeals Court to sit in north Mitrovica. It would establish the association of north Kosovo municipalities – with its own decision-making body – and even give that association a role at the central level via representation in a “communities consultative council.” It offers municipal elections this year, for the north, under the aegis of the OSCE. It provides for an agreement on energy and telecoms by June and calls for “addressing” the issue of “transparent funding.” An “implementation plan including time frame” is to be agreed by April 26.

On the other hand, the agreement does not leave any ambiguity about which country the north belongs to. Instead of leaving the question of status aside – and focusing on practical accommodations to be made within the context of Kosovo’s territorial integrity – it makes it clear that all the elements of the approach would be within the framework of Kosovo statue, constitution and law. It says nothing about links to Serbia and hints at giving Pristina control of funding from Belgrade by declaring an intention to ensure transparency. It gives the Kosovo interior minister the choice of regional police commander from a list nominated by the northern mayors instead of leaving that choice to a neutral international. Similarly, it would be the Kosovo Appellate Court that would decide on membership of a Serb division of the court. Significantly, there seems to be no mention of any commitment to keep the Kosovo military out of the north although NATO hinted it would prevent that. The agreement also says nothing about Kosovo special police (ROSU) in the north, limiting unilateral returns, establishing the boundaries of north Mitrovica or allowing the independent operations of Trepca North.

The positive features of the outline for local autonomy offer hope. But the apparent haste of the Quint to get out of the Kosovo business has led it to dump everything into a Kosovo legal framework with Pristina making key decisions. It would have perhaps been more reassuring to the northern Serbs if there was a clear role still for the internationals in making those key decisions. And the agreement might have been more acceptable in the north if it had either avoided the issue of status or been explicit about continued linkages to Serbia that did not depend on Pristina. As it now stands, one can understand the initial negative reaction from the northern Serb leadership. They are saying that it won’t be implemented and that they will meet to decide on a North Kosovo Assembly.

So it seems that the Brussels agreement may have settled nothing on the ground while raising Pristina’s expectations that it won. This is dangerous. Given the starting point of the agreement as reported, there seems no way that Belgrade can simply force the northern Kosovo Serbs to accept it. (There appears no opening for the northerners to participate in the “implementation committee.”) It remains unlikely that sheer force – even by NATO – can simply make the northerners surrender. Successfully painting Belgrade into the EU corner may have only increased the risks for further conflict.

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.

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

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in responding to this article, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here

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

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