The Quagmire Continues — in Kosovo

In a story appropriately timed for Halloween, the International Herald Tribune updates us on the continuing quagmire in Kosovo.

PRISTINA, Kosovo: All expectations are that, in the next few months, Kosovo will claim an internationally sanctioned independence, concluding a titanic struggle by the United Nations and Western governments to close a chapter that began with its bloody ethnic war.

But it is unlikely to be the conclusion the United Nations hoped for, after having invested seven years supervising the enclave at a cost of about $1.3 billion a year. That is because it seems increasingly evident that the West will need to retain far greater responsibilities than it wanted.

The outlook has changed with the failure of both the Albanian and Serbian sides to reach an agreement in nine months of negotiations, in particular since the Serbs are refusing to recognize Albanian-dominated institutions in what has been a territory dear to their religious and cultural heritage.

The negotiations are dragging on, raising the likelihood that a solution will be imposed. That would end a process that began with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago, which led to wars in Croatia, Bosnia and, finally, Kosovo.

For Western Europe, the wish has always been that resolving Kosovo, the last of the three problem areas, would end the risk of violent disputes over borders and alleviate the need to have a heavy international presence – both in troops and in civil administration – on the ground. Planning is already under way for a European Union-led mission to take over from the UN.

“Everybody is anxious to solve this,” said Joachim Rücker, head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. “It is the last bit of the Balkan puzzle.”

The political calendar in Serbia leaves unclear exactly when a resolution might come: possibly next year, after Serbian elections, although the Americans are eager to conclude things without delay. The Americans are not heavily invested in Kosovo but would be expected to pay some of costs of establishing a more independent state.

Whatever the timing, it seems that foreign officials will retain extensive powers for some time to come, UN and EU officials here say.

With high levels of poverty in Kosovo, the financial costs may continue to be substantial.

“I think the EU is going to be in for a bit of a shock,” said Anthony Welch, coordinator of a UN-commissioned review of Kosovo’s future security needs. “I think their role is going to have to be a little more hands-on. And it is going to cost a lot.”

Kosovo has remained under UN control since the province was prized away in June 1999 from Yugoslav security forces accused of committing atrocities against the majority Albanian population. Its sovereignty remains in limbo: While Kosovo is formally part of Serbia, the six nations overseeing the negotiations on its future say it cannot return to Belgrade’s rule.

I’m sure it won’t take any longer—or any more resources—to resolve Kosovo to everyone’s satisfaction than it will have taken to resolve the division of the Korean peninsula, whenever the latter is finally resolved to everyone’s satisfaction resignation. Perhaps in my daughter’s lifetime. Not mine.

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Filed under Eastern Europe, war

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