UN in limbo in Kosovo

By bne IntelliNews February 29, 2008

Beth Kampschror in North Mitrovica and Pristina, Kosovo -

Barely two weeks after Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians declared independence from Serbia, the UN mission here is idling in neutral. The UN's famed neutrality has hemmed it in yet again, as it is unable to recognise Kosovo's independence and awaits orders from New York - meanwhile finding a new and unlikely ally in the north of what has been recognized by some countries as the world's newest state.

Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17 was supposed to be the endgame. The UN's Kosovo mission, or Unmik, was supposed to filter out of the province as the EU's follow-on police and justice mission, or Eulex, was supposed to filter in. Instead, the UN is remaining on until the tensions here subside; the EU, meanwhile, has pulled what staff it had out of the Serb-majority north.

And just when is the UN leaving? "That's the $64,000 question," says Alexander Ivanko, the UN's spokesman in Pristina. "We have received no instructions to proceed with transition." Other sources speculate that the pullout could be as late as June.

New friend for UN

Meanwhile, there's a new and unprecedented respect for the UN among the Serbs that dominate Kosovo north of the River Ibar. The UN flag is flying above one municipal building for the first time in eight years. The Serbs here are interpreting UN Security Council Resolution 1244 - the resolution that brought the UN in to govern after the 1999 Nato bombing campaign drove Serb forces from Kosovo - to the letter. The Serbs' daily anti-independence protests in their half of Mitrovica, a gritty former mining town divided by the Ibar into Serb north and Albanian south, begin at 12:44 and have done so for nearly two weeks. On Thursday, February 28, about 1,000 Serbs marched peacefully to the bridge over the Ibar, waving the flags of Serbia and its ally Russia, chanting "This is Serbia" and other slogans.

"We need the UN here," says Tijana Simic, a 24-year-old law student and Cameron Diaz look-alike in north Mitrovica who's attended the daily protests. "We do not agree with the decision made by the Kosovo provisional government and certain countries [that recognized Kosovo independence]. They broke international law and disgraced the UN Security Council."

Serbs in the north and in the handful of Serbian enclaves south of the river, Simic says, are free now to disregard the Kosovo government bodies. "The Serbian government is responsible for taking back all the Serbian institutions," she says, lighting a Karelia Slim in the Dolce Vita café next to the Serb side of the Ibar bridge. "We can organise ourselves on a local level and Belgrade can support us." And indeed, there's talk that the Serbian members of the Kosovo police will resign. On Wednesday, February 27, the Serb police didn't show up to work in another town south of the capital Pristina. Serb police are currently taking orders from the UN only.

To Serbs, then, the UN is now good, and it's doable to speak English in the scratchy Serb north - if you're with Mitrovica's version of Cameron Diaz. But the message is that foreigners, and particularly foreigners with the EU mission, are not welcome. A souvenir t-shirt here picturing George W. Bush, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana sums up the mood: inscribed under their faces in bold black and white is the phrase, "Fuck off."

But what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander in this case, the gander being the majority Kosovar Albanians. This week Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Unmik head Joachim Ruecker had what was described by one source as a "blistering conversation" viz-a-viz the UN's limbo nearly two weeks after Thaci declared Kosovo independent. For now, however, Pristina and the rest of the Albanian majority areas remain calm, the US, UK and red Albanian flags fluttering in the unseasonably warm breezes. But sources here have said that all it will take is one Serb-Albanian incident to bring a violent end to the limbo, and the province could see some very ugly days indeed.

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UN in limbo in Kosovo

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