A Decade Too Late

Kosovo Talks Begin

by Jan Oberg

Dissident Voice

October 14, 2003


On October 14, 2003, in Vienna, high-level Kosovo-Albanians and Serbs from Belgrade met face-to-face. It was a historical meeting in more than one sense. It provides an opportunity for anyone concerned about conflict-management and peace-building to reflect on its philosophy, methods and politics. Did the international so-called community do the right thing? Is there adequate institutional learning? Are there parallels between Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq that we should discuss self-critically rather than simply blame the parties?


Dialogue is fine but the 1999 bombing hardened everybody


It is the first time since NATO's war on Yugoslavia in 1999 that Serbs and Albanians meet this way. Indeed, with a few exceptions, it's the first attempt at real negotiations since it all began in the late 1980s. Like in Iraq, the main parties were prevented from meeting. As time has passed hard-liners have taken over the scene and now they won't really talk.


Being the clear victims of Milosevic' repressive policies, the Albanians rightly felt that they had the support of the West and would be rewarded by sticking to a maximalist position; thus no compromise about the goal of complete independence.


Being the largest people whose minorities in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo never really felt any solidarity from the Western conflict-managers, the Serbs felt misunderstood, treated without fairness and they were humiliated by the bombings. Why should they not fight adamantly for the Kosovo province that they consider their cradle? In addition, the Serbs as a people - and the Kosovo Serbs in particular - have lost more than any other due to the policies of their own leadership.


The Vienna process is not likely to bring the needed turning point or real peace to Kosovo. Games keep on being played by all sides, while ordinary good-hearted Albanians, Serbs, Turks etc. in the province keep on paying the high price. These negotiations come about a decade too late. If there were acceptable solutions in the eyes of the parties in the early 1990s, there is now too much hate and distrust to identify even the least bad solution for all.


Present in Vienna are also representatives of the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) led by Special Representative Harri Holkeri, the contact group on Kosovo which includes the United States, Britain, Russia, France, Italy and Germany as well as the top leaders of the EU, Chris Patten and Javier Solana, NATO's Secretary-General Lord Robertson and the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.


Conspicuous aspects


At least four aspects stand out as conspicuous:


A) The absence of Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, (PSIG) in Kosovo; the Albanian side is headed instead by President Dr. Ibrahim Rugova.


B) When Rexhepi refused to come, UN officials cancelled invitations to representatives of the Serbs and Turks in Kosovo which angered Belgrade to such an extent that it sent a Member of its Council of Ministers but neither its prime minister nor his deputy, according to the BBC. Thus, all the relevant local parties are not represented and neither is the PSIG and the Kosovo Assembly. But


C) The UN mission, EU, OSCE and NATO is present at their very highest levels.


D) The future status of Kosovo is not on the agenda. The meeting cover issues such as power shortages, car number plates, the 3,700 mostly Albanians still missing in Kosovo, and the future of the more than 100,000 mainly Serb citizens who fled Kosovo after the war in the reverse ethnic cleansing by extremist Albanians.


Judging from this, it seems that the Vienna talks are more important to the international community than to the local parties. The international community intervened in a most partial manner, sided with the Albanians, bombed Serbia, showed a tacitly understanding for the Albanian extremists reverse ethnic cleansing that forced more than 200,000 Serbs out of Kosovo after NATO's war. It got Serbs but not Albanians to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague and poured billions of dollars into Kosovo (not into Serbia). But in spite of all that, the international community still does not seem to have the trust and authority to tell certain Albanian leaders that enough foot-dragging is enough.


After more than a decade of missed negotiation opportunities and four post-war years of polarization and hardened attitudes between the parties, international organizations have to give the impression that the Kosovo conflicts are moving toward some kind of solution. But they are not. Secondly, they are probably perfectly aware that the EU-NATO-mediated Ohrid Agreement in neighboring Macedonia does not work as intended and that Macedonia's crisis is such that new Albanian-Macedonian violence cannot be excluded - something that will once again display the interconnectedness of extremist Kosovo-Albanian and Macedonia-Albanian political and military forces.


Flash-back on the conflict in light of conflict mitigation


TFF published its first analysis on the conflict, “Preventing War in Kosovo,” 11 years ago based on on-the-ground fact-finding. Our team spent four years between 1992 and 1996 providing the only sustained (written) dialogue between three successive governments in Belgrade (and Slobodan Milosevic) on the one hand and the moderate Kosovo-Albanian leadership under Dr. Rugova and his LDK party which, as the only political leadership in former Yugoslavia, advocated pragmatic non-violent means to achieve its long-term goals, an independent Kosova.


This Kosova would have open borders, no military forces and no military alliance membership and it would never repress anyone but was destined to be based on multi-ethnic, non-violent co-existence. I personally served during these years as unofficial, goodwill adviser in conflict-resolution to Dr. Rugova and our team suggested a number of these features and strategies to him and his fellow leaders.


In 1996, TFF published “Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” concerning a United Nations Temporary Authority for a Negotiated Settlement, UNTANS, in Kosovo. It was formulated as an internationally binding treaty by our experts and dealt with issues such as relative demilitarization and the establishment of a government-cum-NGO Professional Negotiation Facility staffed by experts experienced in conflict and dispute mitigation. It was proposed that the Authority would take over parts of the administration in Kosovo. It was violence-prevention and principled negotiation in one, and it did not stipulate what the final settlement should look like. It provided only a set of means and procedures while proposing a comprehensive education of the people in conflict understanding, negotiation, trust-building and reconciliation; Serb military and police would be replaced by international Civil Police and monitors. Multi-ethnic Civil Affairs Officers would help everybody run daily affairs. The UN and the OSCE would be the main governmental actors.


We took the two reports to the UN in New York and discussed them at the Yugoslav desk, with HE Kofi Annan who at the time was heading the Peace-Keeping Operation, PKO and with several others. Everyone told us that this was the type of professional conflict analysis, early warning and constructive proposals in line with the UN norm of "peace by peaceful means" that was dearly needed in the international community. However, one assistant Secretary-General also said, "excellent work, but I have to tell you that no one takes action in this house before we have read on the front page of New York Times for a couple of weeks that there is war. We are fully aware of the need for early warning and action that you suggest and we do early listening, but the whole global community is desperately overloaded with the ongoing hotspots and wars. The sad fact is that no one has the extra capacity to also deal seriously with potential wars."


Ignored and mismanaged conflicts lead to war


So, warfare broke out in Kosovo in 1997. The German intelligence first, then the US Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, and private mercenary companies, had done their utmost to undercut Dr. Rugova - who Western governments never gave anything but lip service - and made the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, a forceful actor in the province from 1993 onwards.


Among KLA's leaders was Agim Ceku, a Kosovo-born Albanian officer in the Croatian army who in 1993 had been spearheading Croatian President Tudjman's politically US-condoned and militarily US-supported Operations Flash and Storm in Krajina and Western Slavonia. It drove out 250,000 Croatian Serbs from where they had lived for centuries, most of whom have not returned. It also drove out the marvelous UN peace-keeping mission from the UNPAs (the UN Protected Areas) in Croatia, a first humiliation of the UN in a series that has so far ended in Baghdad.


Years ago, Agim Ceku told me that he went down to Kosovo from time to time to "help" KLA develop into a formidable force of some 20,000 soldiers. Later on Ceku was chosen by the international community to lead the so-called civilian Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC, whose disarmament by NATO was nothing but de facto make-believe. KPC and irregular forces carried warfare into both Southern Serbia and Macedonia - where NATO once again allegedly disarmed the Albanian insurgents from Kosovo and local paramilitary forces.


Then US envoy Richard Holbrooke who was assistant US Secretary for the Far East when the Kwangju massacre on hundreds of students by Seoul in 1980 was endorsed by Washington - made an agreement with President Milosevic to have an OSCE mission established in Kosovo, apparently without any prior planning.


The 1200 monitors were never made available by OSCE members but the CIA did arrive and infiltrated it. The head of mission was William Walker, a man who had worked in Latin America - some sources relate his name to the CIA and death squads there - and played a short, unimpressive role as head of the UN in Vukovar. But he knew before any investigation had been made that the Belgrade had committed the Racak massacre and said so on the spot. That served as the final drop in the Clinton administration's decision to bomb Yugoslavia. Rather than getting a new diplomatic assignment, Walker now heads the new privately funded American University in Kosovo! [http://www.aukf.org/press/press_release_2.htm]  


President Clinton saw it fit to bomb. He was operating on assumptions and a level of knowledge about as good as the Bush administration's about Iraq. He too was told and retold invented stories that had no relation to reality - such as the one about the thousands of people who Milosevic had burnt in the industrial furnaces in Mitrovica or the "Horseshoe Plan" that allegedly aimed at driving out every and each Albanian out of Kosovo. He was a Hitler as was Saddam and he was an ally of the US and the West in general until priorities changed.


And there was this bothersome world media focus on the Monica Lewinsky affair that was in need of diversion. Incidentally, the highest NATO commander of that shameful war, fought without UN mandate and killing 600 innocent citizens on the ground, was Wesley Clark, the most popular presidential candidate - Democrat - now in 2003. And the highest-ranking civilian responsible for the war was then NATO Secretary-General, Javier Solana who is present in Vienna now as a EU peacemaker.


Questions we may still ask about Kosovo


Such was the background to the international community's de facto conflict management policies in Kosovo. No government tried to achieve a political, civil settlement when it was possible, i.e. in early 1990s. No international organization made a serious attempt at getting Serbs and Albanians to sit down and talk under some kind of professional mediation guidance in a sustained, principled process.


True, there were "negotiations" in Rambouillet outside Paris before the war. But the parties never met face-to-face and the real American purpose seems to have been to present a plan that would be receive a "yes" from Albanians and "no" from the Serbs. It was achieved by adding a military appendix that gave NATO carte blanche to be present anywhere in Serbia, not take responsibility for accidents or other damage done and not paying for the use of Serbian facilities, roads, harbors etc. No matter what one thinks about Milosevic' leadership and Serb politics during these years, no sovereign state would have accepted this sort of mediation. In its consequences, Rambouillet was a de facto declaration of the war that followed.


The relations between the Kosovo issue and the similar aspects of conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia were never really taken into account. Kosovo was not treated as anything but a unique conflict with no relations to anything else. The problems facing yet another Serb minority was totally ignored by the international community.


Few ever asked whether Kosovo could be about something else, too - such as securing various corporations' and consortia's projected oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian and Black Seas through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania to the Adriatic, securing supplies to the West. Few bothered to investigated why the US built the largest military base, Bondsteel, outside the US since the Vietnam War a few kilometers outside Pristina, Kosovo's capital. Few have asked how the US could carve out a province of a sovereign state and establish their organizations - and the base - in buildings and on land belonging to that state without negotiating compensation. Few asked whether Kosovo's enormous importance and the prestige and billions of dollars poured into it had to do also with the fact that this province seems to have Europe's largest metal deposits.


Indeed, few have asked themselves why this tiny province received the proportionately largest peace-keeping mission ever - some 43,000 soldiers at the outset plus tens of thousands of staff members of the UN, OSCE and hundreds of NGO who flocked to the place after the war on 1999.


The situation today


This is what ReliefWeb tells you



General security improvements have not, however meant that harassment and violence towards ethnic minorities have stopped. A range of serious human rights violations including grenade attacks, booby-traps, drive-by-shootings, arson, physical assaults, stone throwing, vandalism and verbal insults continue. With victims often afraid to report crimes and community leaders reticent to stop them, perpetrators have rarely been held accountable, reinforcing a dangerous cycle of impunity.



Kosovo's young economy remains heavily reliant on international aid and development assistance. The Kosovo Statistics Office (KSO) has put unemployment at an alarming 57%, with even higher rates consistently found in minority and rural areas as well as for women throughout Kosovo. With outside assistance expected to decline sharply in 2003, unemployment - at least in the short term - is likely to grow. At the same time, unregulated activities and organised crime dominate many areas of economic interests and compromise prospects for private investments and socio-economic advances.


Ethnic cleansing and enclave-isation

Subjected to various levels of ethnically motivated harassment and violence after the 1999 conflict, minorities who remained within Kosovo sought protection by clustering in groups. As a result, enclaves requiring heavy international monitoring to ensure the basic safety of residents became home to most of the minority population remaining in Kosovo. Until recently, free movement outside of these enclaves has been highly restricted.


Refugees and Displaced not returning

Against relatively positive developments, UNHCR registered 2,741 minority returns in 2002, boosting the 2000 - 2002 cumulative total to 6,094. Approximately a quarter of a million of Kosovo's pre-war population - mainly Serbs, followed by Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptians - are still displaced.


The vast majority - some 205,000 - mainly Kosovo Serbs, are in Serbia, while Montenegro hosts approximately 29,000 IDPs, the majority of who are Roma. In addition, an estimated 22,500 minority individuals remain displaced within Kosovo proper and are scattered among five regions including the ethnically divided municipality of Mitrovica.


Low donor response to humanitarian needs

Of the eight organisations participating in the Kosovo 2002 CAP (the UN Consolidated Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance), only four (UNHCR, OCHA, UNICEF and WHO) received some funding for CAP projects. As of 10 February 2003, 31% or $8,428,254 out of a requested $27,255,6044 had been secured. Low donor response resulted in major adjustments to and in some cases, cancellation of CAP projects.


Jan Oberg is the Director of the Transnational Foundation For Peace and Future Research in Sweden (http://www.transnational.org). © Copyright Jan Oberg and TFF 2003


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