Action is needed to keep Kosovo on track
Action is needed to keep Kosovo on track
The best deal Kosovo and Serbia can get
The best deal Kosovo and Serbia can get
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Action is needed to keep Kosovo on track

It would be a missed opportunity during George W. Bush's European trip if the US president did not spend a little time with his interlocutors on where the US and European Union have worked well together, not only on where we have disagreed.

The Balkans is a region where we have seen eye to eye and worked shoulder to shoulder. It was not ever thus. But since the end of the Kosovo war, we have been, as the Chinese would say, like lips and teeth. Our strategy has worked: drawing the countries of the western Balkans along the path of reform towards an eventual coupling with the Euro-express. It has not all been smooth. There are still a lot of problems. But remembering where we came from - Franjo Tudjman, Slobodan Milosevic, ethnic cleansing - the turnround has been remarkable.

My worry is that much of that progress could be wrecked unless we get off the fence on the subject of the future of Kosovo. With so much concentration on Iraq, Iran, the Middle East and North Korea, there is a real danger of our forgetting that the task there is not completed. As the International Crisis Group pointed out in a recent report, this is the year for the international community to deal with the issue of Kosovo's final status.

Last year's deadly violence - the destructive results of which I saw for myself - showed that time is running out. What can prevent a tragic return to conflict and keep Kosovo from unravelling the progress the rest of the region has been making is an immediate effort by the international community to clutch a few painful nettles.

First and foremost, it must recognise that the stop-gap measure of United Nations administration, now in its sixth year, can no longer hold. The six-nation Contact Group (the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) should immediately issue a timetable for independence through development of a "Kosovo Accord". A successful UN review of the Kosovo government's commitment to democracy, good governance and human rights - already set for mid-2005 - should be the trigger for drafting the accord, which would need to pass muster through an international conference and would include a constitution to be ratified by referendum in Kosovo.

The accord would not be a free ride for Kosovo Albanians, however. Their contribution to independence must now be ironclad guarantees to protect Serbs and other minorities. Indeed, the very advancement of this Kosovo Accord process should hinge on Kosovo Albanians' commitment to minority rights. Kosovo must be willing to provide for international judges to sit on the Supreme and Constitutional courts, and certain international bodies should have the authority to bring minority rights cases (at least) before those courts.

Kosovo should also be required to host an international monitoring mission to report any failure of an independent Kosovo to fulfil its commitments. To allay regional fears of a "Greater Albania", the accord must also rule out any possible unification of Kosovo with Albania or any neighbouring state or territory.

This proposal has not won immediate friends in Belgrade. However, one hopes that, after the initial round of rejectionist rhetoric subsides, realists in Serbia will come to understand the potential advantages of finally addressing the Kosovo problem in terms of stability and economic development in the region, and in terms of its own chances of EU integration.

But Serbia has no veto on the question of Kosovo's final status. If it is necessary to find a workable solution without Belgrade's consent, that is what must happen.

At the moment, Serbia is held back from following Croatia (which has already begun to negotiate membership of the European Union) by its obsession with Kosovo and its failure to comply fully with The Hague War Crimes Tribunal. We want a democratic and prosperous Serbia within the EU. But if that is to happen, Serbia will have to start living in the present, not the past.

Now is the time for the international community, in particular the members of the Contact Group, to regain control of the agenda in Kosovo. If we allow things to slip, there could be grave consequences. To tackle this agenda requires political courage and energy. It will not be easy. But the alternative would be worse. I hope that Mr Bush will encourage his European partners to join him in acting decisively.

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