How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 79 / Europe & Central Asia

Waiting for UNMIK

More than four months have passed since the start of the deployment of the United Nations in Kosovo.

Executive Summary

More than four months have passed since the start of the deployment of the United Nations in Kosovo. While first efforts were concentrated on the creation of a secure environment and the distribution of humanitarian aid, Civil Administration, the pillar of UNMIK which plays the role of a government, has been slow in reaching the local level.

It is in the municipalities that the normalisation of life and the reconstruction of Kosovo have to begin. The self-proclaimed interim government of Hashim Thaçi saw this at an early stage and even during the period of NATO bombing planned a swift takeover of political and administrative power in 27 of the 29 municipalities (all communes except those where Serbs are a majority).  UNMIK has lagged behind and finds itself now in the situation where the mission has to deal with realities which it feels are inimical to its mandate.

This report seeks to identify the main reasons why this uncomfortable position has been reached, and identify a way forward.  UNMIK’s administrators have arrived late in their assigned municipality, with little clear guidance about the job facing them and the circumstances they would be working in.  Lack of funding and personnel leaves them in a position where they continuously have to improvise, while still waiting for guidelines from headquarters in Prishtinë/Priština. They are in many cases forced to tell the self-proclaimed Albanian communal authorities, which they cannot formally recognise but must work with on a day-to-day basis, to wait a little longer. The waiting is then handed down to the population, which remains unserved and unserviced into the fifth month. Growing impatience can be observed at every level.

This report argues for a negotiated and therefore more pragmatic approach: while the UN should hold the political authority in municipalities, the existing structure should be co-opted as a non-political executive.  Qualms about the status of the UÇK-appointed mayors and their staff are understandable, particularly in the light of reports of illegal activities carried out by some of them or at least in their name; but a policy of fighting them all on principle would use up valuable time and effort, with unsure results.  And anyway many Albanians now in office, on the central as well as on the communal level, have the sincere intention to bring order into everyday life.  They cannot simply be written off as a bunch of thugs.  The population has to be assisted in a practical way and the existing local capacities have to be exploited and not forced into a parallel system yet again.

Efforts for the creation of more inclusive and pluralistic structures have to continue.  But keeping in mind that whatever set-up is chosen will only apply until elections, it is sensible to concentrate more on how a functioning working relationship can be achieved. This is a give and take approach (quite in conformity with the local mentality): though the mayors have to leave the political leadership to the UN, they can still enjoy public respect in their executive functions.  An Advisory Board appointed by the UN administrator can provide additional expertise and serve as a counterpoise to the executive.

Thaçi’s interim government can have a helpful role to play: since the communal authorities are directly under its control, it can deliver their compliance with any agreement.  In a strongly hierarchical society things get done much easier and faster from the top down.  This only means that the UN would have to accept Thaçi as an interlocutor and reach an accommodation with him – just as it did during discussions on UÇK demilitarisation.

Much detail would still be left to the local UN administrator. His/her approach has to be adapted to local conditions which vary from commune to commune.  Even after things have been agreed at policy level, sensitivity in approaching the daily problems will be of the highest importance. Continuing training and constant contacts with fellow administrators all over Kosovo can play a big role.

There is a third way for UNMIK between a strong and exclusive approach and a laisser-faire attitude towards the UÇK-appointed structures.  And the longer the waiting goes on, the more the third way becomes inevitable.  The mission appears already to have recognised that neither of the extremes is viable.  At a time when much faster progress is needed towards building a new Kosovo, a workable arrangement is urgently needed.  This paper hopes to contribute to the debate by suggesting one.

Prishtinë/Priština, 18 October 1999

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