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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61 Responses

  1. Brenda

    I agree with you 100%. There needs to be a representative from the community that’s going to be affected (i.e. Serbians from Kosovo) at the negotiation table. Serbia should not give up the upper hand vis-a-vis UN Res 1244 as to the applicable law. That would effectively prevent the Albanian laws in the North. Most importantly the North needs to have control of the money slated for it or else we will see manipulations preventing them from receiving it.

    1. Fadil

      @Brenda,

      The game is over. Agreement is very specific. North or Kosovo will be governed by Kosovo laws. No more talks on this.

  2. PEN

    This sounds like an unholy mess in the making. The ‘agreement’ has been massaged to appear as a victory for all sides. The Albanians supposedly extend their remit over the north. The Serbs get some form of half baked ‘autonomy.’ NATO gets to reduce troop numbers. And Belgrade gets to join the EU in 15 years time as opposed to 20, or not at all. Ashton can retire with plaudits ringing in her ears. Everybody gets to trumpet their ‘success.’ But what happens when ROSU decide to venture north and provoke the locals which they invariably will. Watch this space!

  3. I am grateful for this detailed discussion of the agreement.

    My impression is that Serbia is in need of IMF money and Dacic is gambling that this agreement will do him less political damage than budget cuts and other painful economic reforms.

  4. Mac Book

    The key thing about the agreement is that Belgrade, Pristina and Brussels will now all be on the same side regarding the north. The northern Serbs will huff and puff for a while, but ultimately they will accomodate themselves to the reality of Kosovo’s indepdence just as the rest of the Kosovo Serbs already have. Without Belgrade’s backing to do differently, they will have no choice. Nothing will happen quickly. Even the timeline for elections this fall could be thwarted by rejectionists in the north. But over time the loss of support from Serbia will lead people in the north to seek an accomodation with Pristina within what has been agreed on Friday.

  5. Mirel

    The fact that radicals on both sides,smugglers,serbian church and serbophiles who always hate albanians such as Gallucci are against the agreement,it means that the agreement is good for both peoples.
    Sorry Gallucci but your job is done.You are fired.

    1. It would be nice to think my “job” is done and it may be. But the details need to be worked out and that can’t happen without the involvement of those who actually live in the north. They need to be brought in and convinced that arrangements can be put in place – and guaranteed by neutral internationals – to allow them to live in peace in their own communities while also living in a place called Kosovo.

  6. Mirel from Albania

    Unfortunately Mr.Gallucci,I dont think that serbs in North want peace and the agreement.All they wanteded was the statu quo ,which gives them the opportunity to loundry money.
    I dont even believe that they will be satisfy if Kosovo and Serbia will exchange territorries and they will be part of Serbia.They dont want this deal too, because they lose the privileges thay already have.Because, for instance, Krsimir Pantic will be either unemployed or some mayer of a town in Serbia if Kosovo and Serbia will have signed the exchange deal.The same goes for the rest of serbs in North.
    They just dont want ANY agreement between Kosovo and Serbia,all they want is statu quo.
    So talking with them will be waste of time for Vucic and Nikolic.
    As I mentioned before with this agreement gain normal people in Serbia and Kosovo.
    Fortunately, they are the overwhelming majority.
    While Albin Kurti,Krsimir Pantic and his gang and all albanianphobes like you Mr.Gallucci have to get used with the fact than in Northen towns halls will be Kosovo flag,their stamps will have Republic of Kosovo and their police will have the same uniform as albanians in Kosovo.
    Time is for peace and agreements,extremistes on both sides and all albanianphobes have already been lost and should be fired.

    1. Mirel, the conflict around North Kosovo is not about smuggling and flags. Those are minor issues. It is about thousands of refugees from elsewhere in Kosovo who can’t return, livid discrimination, and distrust of what the Kosovo government plans to do in the North. It is about people who can daily how see how the Pristina government is harming them with its boycott of Trepca North. It is about intimidating “excursions” of the ROSU special police in the North. And it is about the refusal of the Kosovo government to even have the decency to sit at the table with the representatives of the North and to try to build trust and solutions.

      1. Fadil

        You are totally wrong. Mirel is right. Smugglers in the north simply don’t want anything else than status quo. They want money and not to work.

        Pristina signed the deal and EU plus KFOR are GUARANTORS of that deal so your speculation on what Pristina “intends” are just clear speculations and nothing else.

        1. @mirel:
          “I am pretty sure that the conflict of North is not about survival,bacause 1.8 million K-Alb can get rind of 40K serbs in 20min.”
          You forget that over 200,000 people are still in exile (mostly not Serb but Roma, Gorani, etc.). You forget that in Kosovo’s cities (except North Mitrovica) hardly a Serb is left. You forget that the few Serbs who do return often settle in another village because it is not safe to go to their village of origin.
          There are more subtle ways than the kind of violent cleansing that we saw in march 2004. Those 40,000 Serbs are rather safe because they mostly live in mono-ethnic villages where they are relatively safe from the kind of more subtle harassment (threats, destruction of properties, theft, discrimination, etc.) that usually drives people out.
          We see now already that Pristina is subsidizing the settlement of Albanians in the small part of the North where they have some influence. One can only guess what they will do when they get full control. The fact that the agreement doesn’t address these kinds of concrete issues is one of the main objections of Mr. Gallucci against the agreement and I agree with that.

          “Until now serbs in North get 2 salaries one from Prishtina one from Belgrade and a lot of humanitarian help”
          Sure, some people have it quite good. But you forget that due to the circumstances there is hardly any normal economic activity and that Pristina has contributed to that with its Trepca North policy.

  7. Mirel from Albania

    @Wim Roffel,

    Always Kosovo gonverment has streeses that is ready to talk with the representatives of the North,but Krimir Pantic and his gang dont want to talk.
    I am pretty sure that the conflict of Norhth is not about survival,bacause 1.8 million K-Alb can get rind of 40K serbs in 20min.
    The conflict is about the money dhe their provileged status.Until now serbs in North get 2 salaries one from Prishtina one from Belgrade and a lot of humanitarian help.
    With the agreement they will get one salary from Prishtina and start paying bills reguraly.
    Even if Prishtina and Belgrade will agree for North to go to Serbia they will be against it,because they lose their staturs and under Serbia they will be some serbian peasants.
    Its just a gang of people who refuse every attempt to have law and order in North.
    They were arguing that they will boycott the elections because they will be held under Kosovo’s law!!!!Kosovo,Serbia and all the rest of the world have the same law when it comes in the elections,who win more votes gets elected.
    The same goes for the other laws in Kosovo which have been written by EU and are very similar to Serbia’s laws.

    The agreement is good for both peoples.The fact that 20k extremists on both sides and albanophobes are against it ,tells me that the agreement is a good compromise.

  8. Lt Rinas

    “Sorry Gallucci but your job is done.You are fired”….It seems that someone else was fired and had to use another nickname. Or K&M joined Albania?…the knowledge is fragile.

  9. PEN

    ‘1.8 million Albanians can get rid of 40k Serbs in 20 mins’ Really? You and fadil are pathetic. You armchair warriors haven’t succeeded in getting rid of anybody up to now. Unless that is you count unarmed civilians in the south who were at the mercy of the baying mob as in 2004. And don’t compare the people of the north with that lunatic albin kurti. He’s just an extreme manifestation of what many Albanians feel any way.

  10. peter

    Fadil is all over the internet spouting threats of the north being overrun by the albanians.He forgets that there is a serb army in southern serbia that can cross into kosovo before the albanians or kfor for that matter can do anything.

    1. Fadil

      Peter,

      You are showing your functional illiteracy by speculating here. There was never threatening from Albanians side against Serbian civilians nor it will be in future. The only thing was said was related to illegal security structures of Serbia being present illegally in Kosovo. Serbia was asked to withdraw such illegal forces and eventually agreed on that. A credit goes to that smart move from Serbia.

      As for “Serbian army in southern Serbia”, and your obvious threatening here just to let you know that Albanians know what kind of bluff is this.

      Serbia can’t fight against NATO, which is obliged by UN SC Resolution 1244 to PREVENT entering into Kosovo of ALL Serbian military, police and paramilitary groups.

      Its better for you stop dreaming anymore. The game is over. Serbia signed the deal and withdrew from any ambition to govern any part of Kosovo.

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