To preserve the chances of a peaceful transition in north Kosovo, everyone will have to accept compromise and avoid seeking to take advantage of what would be a fragile and delicate balance of interests.
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By Gerard M. Gallucci
Belgrade and Pristina continue to flesh out a modus vivendi on north Kosovo that may be seen as an implementation of Ahtisaari Plus. Under EU tutelage – and with the US keeping Pristina on point – the two sides have reached the outlines of an agreement on boundaries, police, customs fees and municipal governments in the north and have been talking about property and the judiciary. Details on most of the “agreements” remain to be settled and not everything has been implemented. But it seems that the parties may be nearing agreement on one of the thorniest remaining issues – the courts. Details still have to be settled – and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vucic says that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed – but something seems to have emerged. There will be one basic court for the north, which – acceding to Pristina’s wishes – will include seven municipalities including the four Serb-majority ones north of the Ibar and three Albanian-majority ones south of the river. But it will have two sets of buildings, one in North Mitrovica that reportedly will cover criminal cases and another in south Mitrovica for civil cases. The chief judge would be a Kosovo Serb while the chief prosecutor would be a Kosovo Albanian. Somehow, the judicial personal will reflect the overall Albanian majority in the seven “northern” municipalities (perhaps 60/40) but also the local ethnic make-up, meaning mostly Serbs north of the river.
The agreement still needs to be finalized, perhaps in an upcoming meeting between the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo. Although not what each side would maximally want, a deal along the lines made public so far fits well inside an Ahtisaari Plus approach. That it took the Quint so long to come to this point is unfortunate but better late than never. However, the devil remains in the details. And these details will determine whether the north Kosovo Serbs will accept the new dispensation on the ground – and whether peace will prevail – when everyone decides to implement those details according to their own agendas.
The first set of details concerns the judiciary itself. What law will be applied? Who will pick the judges and prosecutors? Will the current list of Serbian judges be brought into the new system? Who will guarantee the safety of Albanians crossing over into the north and Serbs crossing into the south for business with the courts (especially important for the Serbs as civil matters include all sorts of normal activity including marriage, divorce, birth and death)? What flag – if any – will fly over the courts and in the court rooms? Who pays the judicial employees?
Beyond these matters lies the question of how the court system will be utilized. The major issue is whether the Albanians will seek to use the new courts agreed by Belgrade to impose further ethnic re-engineering in the north by pressing for “returns” based upon “property rights.” The Albanians have already used this tactic to impose returns in the sensitive Brdjani area of north Mitrovica. EULEX and KFOR put down Kosovo Serb protests at the time. Any effort to again impose “returns” via using the courts to remove Kosovo Serb IDPs from “illegal” possession or the Kosovo Special Police (ROSU) to take territory in the north could trigger renewed conflict.
This ties in with a broader set of issues, some of which go beyond the Ahtisaari Plan. The first is property. South of the Ibar, Kosovo Albanians have cleansed Serbs from many areas and often used the courts to legalize the seizure of property. Property rights of all with claims in Kosovo should be settled before any one side uses such “rights” to unilaterally return. Many of the Kosovo Serb IDPs in the north (and outside Kosovo) live where they do because return for them is unsafe. Serb returnees in the south still face sometimes violent resistance. A just solution might recognize that some may choose to receive a fair price for their property rather than risk returning to where they are not wanted.
Many other important details remain apparently unsettled – or at least not communicated to the publics. They include the final division of state and public property (including Trepca), the funding mechanisms for the Serb majority municipalities, exactly how linkages to Belgrade will work, how the association of Serb municipalities will function, whether minorities will continue to have reserved seats in the Kosovo parliament and the border of the new North Mitrovica municipality (Ibar or not?).
To preserve the chances of a peaceful transition in north Kosovo, everyone will have to accept compromise and avoid seeking to take advantage of what would be a fragile and delicate balance of interests. The internationals will have to remain strictly status-neutral and not allow Pristina to act unilaterally. They might also not pursue witch hunts under cover of countering “impunity.” It is disappointing – if not surprising – to see EULEX seeking to assuage Albanian displeasure at arrests stemming from its pursuit of corruption by arresting possible political leaders in the north like Oliver Ivanovic. Ivanovic is running for mayor of North Mitrovica – election this month – and EULEX’s action to investigate matters going back to 1999-2000 smacks of cut-rate politics. (Unless perhaps they are trying to help him win the election by giving him “street cred” through an arrest?)
Much progress has been made so far in the Brussels negotiations. But no one should believe that everything is nearly settled. Ahtisaari Plus opens the doors but there remains many practical matters needing practical approaches and international oversight. The Quint may still be tempted to take short cuts and – once Belgrade has signed off on the new model – use EULEX and KFOR to enforce it. The role of the UN and UNMIK to monitor the fairness of any implementation of the agreements will remain vital to peacekeeping under UNSCR 1244.
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. He will serve as Diplomat-in-Residence at Drake University for the 2013-14 school year.