Pristina’s demand that UNMIK close its office in north Mitrovica, combined with attempts to install its own Potemkin administration in its place, constitute a fresh assault on peace and stability.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Pristina appears to have decided on a strategy of provoking the northern Kosovo Serbs – into conflict or simply refusing negotiations – under cover of seemingly getting ready to “implement” the Ahtisaari Plan through its own direct actions. This as the Quint turns a blind eye and the EU proceeds with plans to downsize. Peace in Kosovo and the Balkans is thereby put at risk.
In the past several days, the Pristina regime has mounted a fresh assault on peace and stability in north Kosovo by the political arrest of a local Serb employee of UNMIK in north Mitrovica, by the demand that UNMIK close its office there and by threats to install its own Potemkin administration in its place. The Kosovo institutions have announced that UNMIK will turn over its files and responsibilities for administering north Mitrovica within two weeks – this while the UNMIK top leadership in Pristina is apparently (conveniently?) on leave. The stated plan is to form its own local government in the north under the rubric of the “Ahtisaari Plan.” According to Pristina’s interior minister, the new office will provide services and will be followed by “local elections” to have “legal partners” in the north thus “contributing to the ending of monitoring of the supervised independence of Kosovo in September.” The minister reportedly claimed that KFOR, EULEX and the “Kosovo Police” will insist on “the functioning of this office” even at the cost of “protests, violence and other things.” The plan has reportedly been coordinated with the ICO and the US Embassy.
These moves come after a supposed poll (reportedly carried out by USAID and the UNDP) that suggests that the great majority of people in Kosovo want the Ahtisaari Plan implemented in the north rather than some other solution. The French Ambassador to Pristina – speaking for the Quint? – reportedly also rejected any special status for the north.
EULEX apparently took over the case of the arrested Serb employee of UNMIK and had him released as apparently there were no real charges that could be laid. Reportedly, the mayor of south Mitrovica has brought other charges against him in a continued effort at intimidation. EULEX, however, is also playing along with the effort to suggest approaching normalcy in Kosovo by announcing plans to greatly downsize its mission even as NATO remains concerned about the EU’s diminished commitment to Kosovo peacekeeping.
The Quint may see these moves by Pristina as an effort to stake out a strong position before any negotiations on the north. The Kosovo Albanian leadership, however, knows better. This is in reality a declaration of war on the Serbian community in the north and Pristina’s frank admission that it does not intend to suffer any real negotiations. The new “office” will have the same virtual existence as previous efforts to impose Pristina’s authority in the north as the local Serb community remains unlikely to surrender its own institutions connected with Serbia. Pristina’s provocations, however, will surely move the northern Kosovo Serbs to further distrust any efforts to achieve a peaceful compromise. Pristina can pretend its following the “agreed” plan to “resolve” the issue of Kosovo status while waiting for the internationals to either do its dirty work of imposing it through force or to just tire and go away.
At best, Pristina’s actions – and the Quint’s acceptance if not support for them – will leave Kosovo in a state of frozen conflict. At worst, it sets the stage for renewed conflict and violence. It is risky behavior that leaves NATO and the UN facing the need to return to active peacekeeping. It also demonstrates a complete lack of readiness of Pristina to be left unsupervised. But perhaps its international sponsors have just grown tired of an effort – that they thought would be much easier – to impose their unilateral “solution” of Kosovo independence. The danger here is that “independent Kosovo” itself turns out to be nothing more than a Potemkin creation in a dangerous neighborhood.
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.