Difficult start for the new Kosovo boss
The new head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Hans Hækkerup, took up his position on Monday January 15 and immediately faced a difficult start.
Despite the very peaceful local elections held last October, the last few months have seen a wave of politically-motivated violence that has angered the international community. Many Kosovar Albanians are warning there could be worse to come unless further attention is paid to the region.
The international community has invested time and effort, sent a lot of people and money to make Kosovo safe and secure again, but that all that could easily be undermined. This sense of fatigue with Kosovo can not only be seen among politicians, but charities and NGOs too. Both a lack of aid and an increase in violence followed the fall of Slobodan Milošević and the changes in Yugoslavia's leadership.
The fear among many Albanians is that the West is now focusing on Serbia's needs at Kosovo's expense. It is up to Hans Hækkerup to convince people that this is not the case. But his first decision in his post, the announcement that an UNMIK office will be set up in Belgrade, faced immediate and angry reactions from local politicians.
Only the moderate Democratic League of Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova did not oppose the idea publicly. But even Mr Rugova insisted that other offices should be opened in the capitals other countries, especially the western democracies, to provide wider representation for Kosovo.
The Democratic Party of Kosovo of Hashim Thaçi opposed the Belgrade office, saying it was premature. They, like all Kosovo Albanians, believe the continued detention of Albanian prisoners in Serbian prisons must be resolved before any steps are taken towards normality in relations with Serbia.
When will there be general elections?
Former UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner had already mentioned that he was preparing general elections to be held in Kosovo this spring, probably in May or June. But Hækkerup seems less certain. He says he wants to consult with local political parties before he commits himself. General opinion is that if those elections are not held in 2001, that could lead to more bloodshed.
Hækkerup has said that the international community should clarify what powers a parliament of Kosovo would have before general elections are held. Daan Everts, who is the head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, told the UN Security Council in November 2000 that elections should be held around spring 2001 to accelerate the process of returning autonomy to Kosovo. More recently, however, he indicated that this may be too soon, and now elections are unlikely to take place before summer.
Everts told Koha Ditore on 13 January that he urged the ambassadors from the 54 OSCE member states to organize general elections within the year 2001. He argued that holding general elections is necessary because the Albanians must elect people who can represent them in negotiations with Belgrade and with the international community about a final settlement of the status of Kosovo. Everts said, however, that from a technical point of view it would be very difficult to hold the elections before the end of July.
The powers of the new central parliament and government will have to be laid down in a provisional constitution, which international, Albanian, and Serbian legal experts will draw up under UN guidance. Hækkerup's caution seems to arise from his feeling that there must be a legal framework under which elections can be held. While he did not put a date on when elections would be held, he said the work on defining this framework will be speeded up and that elections would take place "as soon as possible."
Hækkerup's second major priority will be to concentrate on law enforcement—to make it as effective as possible. He told local media that his job is to create a secure environment so that Serbs may return in safety. He acknowledged that doing that might take some time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced it would send a delegation of experts to set up a testing and research program on the effects of depleted uranium (DU). The team will consist of a toxicologist, an epidemiologist, an environmental health specialist and a specialist in radiation protection. They will set up a testing program for the people of Kosovo in Priština Hospital. WHO said that more scientific research was necessary to better assess the risks posed by depleted uranium to humans who come in contact with it.
Meanwhile UNMIK has continued its efforts begun last week to identify and mark more than 100 sites where DU was reportedly dropped. The Civil Administration Pillar along with the Department of Emergency Preparedness is coordinating these efforts.
And in other news
And in other news
- Leaders Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for Kosovo's Future have been invited to attend the inauguration ceremony of the United States President-elect George W Bush.
- The Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, visited Kosovo on Wednesday. He met the SRSG and ComKFOR at UNMIK HQ. He also went to Djakovica to visit the airfield, which the Italians had been improving so that it would help take over some of the traffic at Priština airport. The Djakovica airport will be inaugurated at the end of the month.
- Albanian Minister of Education and Sciences Ethem Ruka signed on Tuesday in Priština a Memorandum on Further Cooperation between the education institutions of Kosovo and Albania. Tirana also inaugurated the opening of its tourism office in Priština to try to increase cooperation and tourism on both sides of the border.
- Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Pellumb Xhufi went to Kosovo to meet representatives of all political parties after the announcement that Belgrade has asked Tirana to re-establish diplomatic relations, cut when the NATO bombing started on 24 March 1999.
- Micro Enterprise Bank, the only fully licensed bank operating in Kosovo at the moment, lowered its transfer rate out of Kosovo from 0,7 percent to 0,4 percent for any amount of money while money coming into Kosovo will be subject to commissions of 1,1 percent to 1,3 percent. That is part of the bank's efforts to support local businesses, bank officials said. The bank has some 25,000 clients.
- Three border crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia will soon begin controlling and collecting taxes for imported goods. "The three tax collection points along the administrative border with Serbia proper will be operational shortly," said UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel.
Llazar Semini, 18 January 2001
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