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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Kosovo's vacant job not for faint-hearted
By Tim Judah
Balkans analyst

Looking for a new job and fancy running a small part of Europe? Then Kosovo could be yours.

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, is looking for a suitable candidate to run what is in effect a UN protectorate.

But be warned. It is a thankless task, and considerable diplomatic skills are required, plus some political clout.

Serb refugees flee Kosovo
Problems include the continued absence of thousands of Serbs
At their recent Thessaloniki summit, European Union foreign ministers selected an Italian and a Swede as candidates. It was widely assumed that the Italian would get the job.

But Mr Annan in effect rejected the EU's choices. The bottom line, according to one EU source, was that the fancied Italian did not have the political clout needed to steer the Serbian province through the testing times ahead.

Kosovo and Europe's chancelleries are still reeling from the shock.

Now the job is up for grabs.

Whoever gets it have their work cut out. Top priority will be overseeing the launch of a historic dialogue between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated local administration and the Serbian Government.

Michael Steiner
Previous boss Michael Steiner says status talks cannot be delayed
The announcement of talks, which came at the Thessaloniki summit, is a major breakthrough. They will be the first substantive negotiations between the two sides since the Kosovo war ended just over four years ago.

Then, Kosovo was utterly ravaged.

Now, under the guidance of the UN and with reconstruction money from the EU above all, Kosovo is being transformed.

Several rounds of elections have taken place and the UN has begun devolving power to a local government in which both Albanians and Serbs are involved.

Minority protection rights also give Serbs more seats in parliament than their numbers - currently around 5% of a population of two million - would normally suggest.

I think that talks on status will start by the end of next year or 2005 because I don't think you can prolong the issue much longer
Michael Steiner
Outgoing UN boss
Privatisation has just begun, Kosovo has its own police force and its customs service helps raise a considerable portion of the province's income.

But severe problems remain.

Even when Kosovo was a part of pre-war Yugoslavia, there were still not enough jobs for its predominantly young population. Now unemployment runs at a phenomenal 57%.

In south and central Kosovo, Serbs and other minorities live in enclaves. Travelling outside them can still be dangerous.

Nearly 200,000 Serbs and others who fled have never returned.

Kosovo Albanian refugee during war
Kosovo has been transformed since the suffering of four years ago
In the predominantly ethnically Serbian north, while the UN has a presence, it is clear that this area has virtually nothing in common with the rest of Kosovo and remains tightly bound to the rest of Serbia, which it borders.

Kosovo Albanians want independence for the province but Serbs would like it to remain part of Serbia.

On the other hand, since many Serbs understand that this is not realistic, many also believe that partition will be the solution.

Practical problems

In any case, the question of Kosovo's final status will not be on the agenda of the forthcoming talks, at least not to start with.

They will deal with practical problems, such as Serbia's refusal to accept Kosovo's UN-issued car number-plates and documents which make it difficult for people from Kosovo to travel through Serbia.

The talks will also look at the refugee return question, energy and transport links.

But the issue of Kosovo's final status cannot be avoided indefinitely, according to Michael Steiner the outgoing UN boss.

"The idea that we can deal with it in 10 years or 17 years doesn't hold any more," he says.

"I think that talks on status will start by the end of next year or 2005 because I don't think you can prolong the issue much longer."

For us (partition) would mean war
Ylber Hysa
Kosovar commentator
Dragisa Krstovic, the head of Povratak, the main Serbian coalition in Kosovo's parliament, says that while he would like all of Kosovo to be an autonomous part of Serbia partition, "maybe, would be a better solution than others".

But Kosovo premier Bajram Rexhepi says simply that the Albanian side would the province's division.

Ylber Hysa, a prominent Kosovar commentator puts it more bluntly: "For us that would mean war."

The outcome of the talks process has the potential to change people's everyday lives.

If travel and trade and all sorts of other mundane concerns become easier then the right sort of climate may be created for the beginning of talks on Kosovo's final status.

This will in turn make the eventual entrance of both Kosovo and Serbia into the European Union - a mutual goal - a lot easier.

Tim Judah is the author of Kosovo: War and Revenge published by Yale University Press.

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28 Apr 03  |  Europe

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