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UN envoy on Kosovo's status says 'independence is the only option'

26 March 2007 The only viable option for Kosovo is independence, with an initial period of supervision by the international community, the senior United Nations official overseeing the Serbian province’s future status process has concluded in a report endorsed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and sent today to the Security Council.

Martti Ahtisaari, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the future status process for Kosovo, stated that independence is the only way to ensure the province – where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and other minorities by nine to one – becomes politically stable and economically viable.

Kosovo’s Government and Serbia have been unable to reach any agreement over what should happen, even on smaller, practical issues, Mr. Ahtisaari said, despite his efforts over the past year to broker a compromise. He warned that the continuing uncertainty is threatening democratic development and ethnic reconciliation.

“Such uncertainty only leads to further stagnation, polarizing its communities and resulting in social and political unrest,” the envoy wrote. “Pretending otherwise and denying or delaying resolution of Kosovo’s status risks challenging not only its own stability but the peace and stability of the region as a whole.”

Calling Kosovo “a unique case that demands a unique solution,” Mr. Ahtisaari said an international civilian and military presence is necessary as part of the settlement, focused on such areas as minority community rights, the rule of law, decentralization and the protection of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Under his Comprehensive Proposal, once the Council endorsed his settlement plan and it entered into force, there would be a 120-day transition period during which the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) – which has run the province since mid-1999 when Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid fierce fighting and human rights abuses – would remain in charge.

An International Civilian Representative, who would be appointed by an international steering group and act also as the European Union (EU) Special Representative, would have no direct role in Kosovo’s administration but would hold ultimate supervisory power over the implementation of the settlement.

The civilian representative would have the power to annul laws or decisions by Kosovo authorities and the right to punish or remove officials whose actions he or she deemed inconsistent with the settlement, and would work until the steering group determined that Kosovo had implemented the terms of the settlement.

The Kosovo Assembly, working with the civilian representative, would approve a new constitution and any legislation necessary under the settlement. These would take effect at the end of the transition period, when UNMIK’s powers would expire and be transferred to Kosovo’s authorities.

Within nine months of the settlement entering into force, Kosovo would also be required to hold general and local elections.

A series of constitutional and legislative provisions would be introduced to ensure that minority rights are protected and other interests upheld. Albanian and Serbian would both be official languages, while other community languages such as Turkish, Bosnian and Roma would have the status of languages in official use. Ethnic minorities would be guaranteed representation within the Kosovo Assembly.

The Serbian Orthodox Church would be recognized formally by Kosovo’s authorities and enjoy tax and customs duty privileges. Protective zones would be created around more than 40 key cultural and religious sites.

An international military presence would remain, with a mission led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) continuing the current work of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) until such time as Kosovo’s institutions are deemed capable of assuming complete responsibility for security.

Local police officers in the Kosovo Police Force would reflect the ethnic composition of the municipality in which they serve, and a new Kosovo Security Force would be established within a year of the end of the transition period. The new force would have a maximum of 2,500 active members and 800 reservists, and the current Kosovo Protection Corps would be disbanded.

Mr. Ahtisaari stressed that Belgrade’s demand for Kosovo’s autonomy within Serbia, and nothing beyond that, and Pristina’s insistence that nothing less than independence is acceptable, meant he had no other option than the proposal.

“A return of Serbian rule over Kosovo would not be acceptance to the overwhelming majority of the people of Kosovo. Belgrade could not regain its authority without provoking violent opposition. Autonomy of Kosovo within the borders of Serbia – however notional such autonomy may be – is simply not tenable.”

Mr. Ban expressed his full support for the report and the settlement plan today, saying in a statement released by his spokesperson that the future status process “has reached a decisive phase.

“The Security Council has been presented with a plan which the Secretary-General believes contains all of the right elements for a fair and sustainable solution to Kosovo’s future status,” the statement said.

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