Page last updated at 00:35 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 01:35 UK

Crisis looms over Kosovo's future

By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Pristina

Kosovo and UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) police patrol
The UN has been scaling back its activities in Kosovo

A crisis is looming for the international community's effort to oversee Kosovo after independence.

The United Nations, which has administered the province since 1999, had been preparing to move out, while alternative EU missions have already begun moving in.

But a full UN withdrawal is now in doubt, and it is far from clear whether the EU and the UN can work together after 15 June, when Kosovo's declaration of independence is meant to take effect.

The head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (Unmik), Joachim Ruecker, has confirmed in a BBC interview that his mission will continue longer than expected.

"It is certainly clear that the UN has a responsibility, that the mission will continue," Mr Ruecker told the BBC.

And referring to the 2,000-strong Europe Union Law and Justice Mission (Eulex), which has already begun to be deployed, he added: "We do take note of the fact that Eulex is coming in... and in principle we do not want to duplicate.

"But whether and how there can be co-operation with Eulex remains to be decided."

Extra cost

That spells a major headache for the EU. It had expected to inherit a fleet of around 400 Unmik police vehicles, plus headquarters, outbuildings, and other equipment.

According to one estimate, the extra cost of buying and building a mission from scratch could be as high as 100 million euros (78m; $156m).

Unmik - UN body that has administered Kosovo from 1999, in the wake of Nato bombing of Serbia
Eulex - EU mission to assist Kosovo's police and judiciary
International Civilian Office (ICO) - EU mission intended to supervise independent Kosovo

The Eulex deployment deadline has already been set back to August. Informed speculation in Pristina is that October is more realistic.

Mr Ruecker's comments underline deep divisions within the international community over the independence of Kosovo - and there is a sense of growing confusion and unease within Kosovo itself.

Accusations of being "pro-Serb" or "pro-Albanian" are flying, even among international officials.

Considerable autonomy

On 15 June, the new Kosovo constitution comes into force. Based on the plan drawn up by the former UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, it decentralises Kosovo and allows considerable autonomy to Kosovo Serbs.

The date forces the hand of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will soon have to announce his own plans for Kosovo, and explain how any residual UN mission is supposed to co-exist with the Europeans.

Special Representative of the Secretary General at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Joachim Ruecker
The head of the Unmik says the UN's mission will continue

When the constitution comes into effect, "it is likely that we will be in a situation where the mandate as we know it cannot be implemented any more," says Joachim Ruecker.

One idea is a "double-hatted" arrangement, under which Mr Ruecker would be replaced in June by a diplomat working both for the UN, and the EU.

The UN has been quietly scaling back its own activities in Kosovo for some time - 23% of posts in the organisation are now empty, though UN headquarters in New York has instructed that the figure should not reach beyond 30%.

Most UN staff, currently on contracts which end on 30 June, have been told that their contracts will be extended to 31 December.

What next?

Several scenarios are now under consideration, according to well-placed sources.

The most radical would be to scrap the EU Law and Justice mission, and its sister mission, the International Civilian Office altogether, and leave everything to the UN.

A second would be to deploy Eulex only in Albanian areas, with the residual UN mission in Serb enclaves.

"The problem with that is that it will provide an excuse to hardline Serbs in the north to continue to resist an EU deployment," said one Western diplomat in Pristina. "And that would intensify the degree of partition."

Alex Anderson, head of the Pristina office of the International Crisis Group, describes that idea as "a risk of tribalism emerging among the international presences".

"There is certainly a great need to find creative ways to allow the EU to extend its reach over the whole of Kosovo," he says.


A third scenario is to delay, in the hope that the situation will eventually improve sufficiently to allow Eulex to deploy throughout the country, including in the majority-Serb north.

All eyes are now on the Serbian elections on 11 May. If the pro-European Democrats of President Boris Tadic win, emotions over Kosovo might die down.

If the nationalists, including the Serbian Radical Party, form the next government, defiance of the EU missions in Kosovo could intensify. Polls currently predict a narrow victory for the nationalists.

"It is important for the international community to continue to contribute to peace and security, and the well-being of all communities in the north - as Unmik has been doing," said Gerry Galluci, regional head of Unmik North, in Mitrovica.

But very different opinions of Unmik North can be heard in Pristina.

"Unmik in the North of Kosovo has done nothing but appease Serb warlords," said one international official. "And their allies, the nationalist parties in Belgrade."

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