Kosovo – war or peace?

A peace initiative by Kosovo Serbs in the north opens the door to backing away from further confrontation, and seems to suggest that they are prepared to enter a dialogue on the future of the north.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

The Russian aid convoy finally was allowed to enter north Kosovo on December 16th after a compromise over the EULEX demand to accompany the trucks.  As the local Kosovo Serbs were still preventing EULEX from travelling by road to the Jarinje crossing point – they believed that EULEX was seeking to bring Kosovo Albanian police with them – the EULEX vehicles traveled from south Kosovo north through Serbia and then around back to Kosovo.  It is not known if they had any Kosovo customs officials in the trunk.

The absurd lengths that EULEX went through to not commit itself to acting according to its status neutral UN mandate suggests that the crisis in the north is not yet over.  EULEX chief de Marnhac justified EULEX’s demand that it “control” the entry of the Russian vehicles as a matter of “rule of law.”  EULEX (and KFOR) cite this principle without specifying which rule of law they believe they are enforcing.  Their insistence on subjecting the north to Pristina’s “rule of law” – bringing Kosovo Albanian police and customs officials to the boundary – is at the root of the dispute that has kept the locals on the barricades since July.  Russia’s Ambassador to Serbia correctly noted that EULEX had exceeded its UNSCR 1244 mandate for political purposes.

Meanwhile, the northerners have presented KFOR and EULEX with a proposal for a “time out for peace” while broader issues are settled through dialogue including them.  Everyone would commit to not undertake unilateral actions.  The barricades would come down while the local Kosovo police (KPS) man the crossing points under KFOR and UNMIK supervision.  KFOR would mount checkpoints around Mitrovica to prevent unilateral moves while EULEX would operate normally from there south.  All this would leave time for filling in the details of the agreement to have both Serbian and Kosovo officials on the Gates.  So far, however, there has been little comment from the internationals, with KFOR saying it is a “political matter” and EULEX only that it is “looking” at the proposal.

At the core of the proposed peace plan is the northerners continued distrust of EULEX.  They remain opposed to an EULEX presence at the northern Gates as long as it seeks to impose Kosovo authority and customs there.  EULEX efforts to do so are without question beyond the UN mandate for rule of law passed to them in November 2008.  Perhaps Russia will now insist that the UN take back that responsibility?

The peace initiative opens the door to backing away from confrontation and it seems to suggest the northerners themselves are prepared to enter a dialogue on the future of the north.  The government in Pristina continues to insist that the northern mayors are “illegal”, but they have demonstrated they are the leaders on the ground and capable of acting responsibly.  Chancellor Merkel will visit Kosovo this week.  She should meet with representatives of the northern Kosovo Serbs – perhaps visit them on the barricades – and hear their side to judge for herself if they are all “criminals.”

The open question remains the US.  Left to themselves, the Europeans might well decide on an approach looking to peacefully implement issues agreed between Pristina and Belgrade while discussing further issues.  But if anyone simply wishes to out-wait the northerners – leave it to winter to drive them off the barricades – or look for a good moment to again use force, it would be the US. Pristina’s insistence on its plans for incorporating the north suggests at the least that its US patron is encouraging them to not compromise.  So, the danger of war remains.  Merry Christmas?

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.

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

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7 Responses

  1. Pingback : Kosovo – war or peace? – TransConflict | Angola news

  2. Diza Kosovar

    Mr. Galluci, its very strange that you put illegal mayors from the Northern Kosovo into brackets. They are not “illegal” but illegal according to resolution 1244 and Kosovo Constitution. Even Mr. Ivanovic who is now state secretary of Ministry for Kosovo has said that “local elections organized in Kosovo from Serbia in 2008 were ILLEGAL”. Of course he said that before he got in power. Now he “changed” this view. In fact Resolution 1244 is very clear, UNMIK holds elections in Kosovo (NOT Serbia) unless it transfers that competence to Kosovo institutions (Article 11 of resolution 1244). The “mayors” in the North didn’t propose any reasonable proposal. They should know that everything they are doing will harm Serbian population not Albanians.

  3. If one wishes to argue about legality using UNSCR 1244, the only legal institutions in Kosovo are UNMIK and those that work with it. This would not include the government in Pristina. But in reality, what provides legitimacy to any government is the support of the people. Just as it seems the majority of people south of the Ibar support the government in Pristina, it appears quite clear the majority in the north does not. They apparently still support the local governments they elected.

  4. Diza Kosovar

    Mr. Gallucci you are totally wrong. UNSCR 1244 gives UNMIK mandate to establish and promote substantial autonomy for Kosovo based on Ramboiullet accords, which means within three years. According to article 11 of R1244 UNMIK transfer its authority to Kosovo institutions not to Serbia thus Serbia DOESN’T HAVE right to hold elections in Kosovo. Why for instance Serbia didn’t hold elections in the North on 2000 or 2002? Its very clear that you are mixing legitimacy with legality, which are different concepts. There is no LEGAL base for elections of “mayors” in the North of Kosovo because they are in breach of Kosovo Constitution and R1244. What for instance happens if three towns in US decide to hold elections by majority of people and don’t recognize US government? Is US government going to recognize these illegal people? Or take examples if municipalities in northern Serbia decide to hold elections based on Hungarian law, or Bosniacs in Sandjak hold elections and elect people based on Bosnian law, or Albanians in south Serbia hold elections based on Kosovo laws etc etc. Where is the end?

  5. Pingback : Kosovo - Serbia, the EU and Germany

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