The Current Situation in Kosovo
by Koenraad Van Brabant, RRN Coordinator, ODI March 2004

The Military Technical Agreement of the Security Council on 10 June ended NATO’s bombing campaign, initiated the withdrawal of Belgrade’s security forces, opened the way for a return of the Albanian Kosovars who had fled or been expelled from Kosovo, as well as for an international military (KFOR) and civilian contingent (UNMIK or UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) to enter the province.

Major developments have taken place since then. For example, KFOR has reorganised international troop deployments away from national sectors – with all the political sensitivities this implied – to geographical multinational brigade sectors, each with several troop contingents. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has not only officially ‘demilitarised’ but also been disarmed. The UNMIK international police is beginning to deploy in Kosovo and a first batch of 173 recruits for a new Kosovo police service has finished training. As early as July, UNMIK also appointed regional governors to take over local administration. It is worth noting that the UNMIK mandate and authority differ significantly from the set-up in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH): rather than repeating the ‘helping hand’ approach to existing local administrations with a ‘mediatory’ approach with limited authority, Kosovo in all but name is administered as a protectorate. This means that the UN has assumed legislative and executive authority.

Most of the approximately 850,000 Albanian Kosovar refugees have returned spontaneously in one of the quickest repatriation flows in recent history. This hasn’t, however, solved the problem of refugees and IDPs in the region. Montenegro reports hosting some 28,000 refugees from Bosnia and Croatia and 61,000 internally displaced from Kosovo. Serbia and Montenegro together now have the largest refugee (some 510,000) and IDP (some 222,000) population in Europe. The return of the Albanian Kosovars has also initiated revenge and politically motivated violence against Serb and Roma (Gypsy) Kosovars, many of whom have fled Kosovo spontaneously or under threat. Others have become displaced internally, in Serb-dominated enclaves or in shelters and zones protected by the international community. Sadly, Stankovic II camp in Macedonia, so recently full of Albanian Kosovars, now houses several thousand Roma refugees, forced to flee the wrath of the Albanian Kosovars who hold them collectively responsible for the collaboration of some Rome with the Serb security forces. The destruction of houses and livelihoods by the Serb security forces, especially in central and west Kosovo, also means that significant numbers of Albanian Kosovas found no home to return to and remain internally displaced.

The Humanitarian Challenge

A large scale humanitarian assistance programme is now being implemented by a plethora of governmental, multilateral, NGO and private sector actors. The initial emphasis has been on emergency assistance, but various programmes are well into reconstruction and democratisation. Emergency food distribution policy has shifted from general to targeted distribution. It is clear, however, that vulnerable individuals and groups will continue to need food aid for quite a while. Major support for agricultural production cannot start until next spring. Schooling has started in most places; health services remain in need of strengthening but surveys are underway to obtain a comprehensive picture and decide priorities.

The main problem remains emergency shelter. It is now clear that the target of one winter-proof room per house will not be reached. Maybe as many as 200,000 people will have to live in winter tents or are being moved into ‘collective centres’. The problem is a supply crisis, especially for cured timber and to a lesser degree for roofing tiles. Delays are further incurred because the border crossings have become ‘choking’ points.

Emergency rehabilitation is also hampered by damaged or failing public infrastructure. The overstretched electricity supply system often breaks down. This affects micro-activities but also the municipal heating and water supply and treatment systems. Mines and unexploded ordnance continue to pose a major threat. A recent EU study costed the reconstruction bill at US$2.1bn. Reconstruction will not be helped by the economic depression. Kosovo has mineral and agricultural resources, but its trade links were mostly with Serbia-Montenegro and these have now been largely cut. Already two economic zones are developing, a dinar one in north Kosovo with a stronger Serb presence, and a Deutsch Mark one in the rest of the province. Perhaps the biggest economic opportunity at the moment is employment with international organisations as well as catering for the needs of some 45,000 KFOR troops and an additional several thousand aid workers. But this international presence also stimulates inflation which will hurt those not benefitting from it. Kosovo has probably the youngest population in Europe, and many of them will experience continued unemployment.

The Political Challenge

The economic challenges are compounded by political ones. These are internal and external. Internally, UNMIK is increasingly confronted by tensions and violence within the Albanian Kosovar body politic. Political parties emerge and fade and there are shifting alliances, but in essence there are two blocs around the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which existed prior to the escallation of 1998–1999 and whose base is more among urban intellectuals, and the new party of Hashim Thaci, the leader of the disbanded KLA which has a stronger base in the countryside, and in the past two years put up an armed resistance. Also, internally, UNMIK and KFOR have difficulty assuring effective protection especially for the Serb and Roma populations in Kosovo, and it is clear that some Albanian Kosovars see ethnic cleansing of these groups as a solution to historical ethnic tensions, and as a step towards independence. Local elections are planned for May 2000. Under the current circumstances many belonging to minority groups in Kosovo will not be able to vote. As in BiH, early elections are also likely to give democratic credibility to ethnically based and ethnically driven parties. This is not desirable.

Externally, the international community, being ‘interim’, will have to find a long term solution for Kosovo. The Security Council Resolution of 10 June affirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In practice, Belgrade has no say whatsoever in how Kosovo is currently administered, and many foreigners in Kosovo talk as if they are in a separate country or at least one on the way to independence. Belgrade has expressed grave reservations about the creation of a Kosovo Protection Force, in which a number of former KLA fighters have been absorbed. Whereas the international community sees this as a lightly armed civil defence force to help with emergencies and humanitarian assistance, Albanian Kosovar nationalists see it as the first step towards a fully capable national army. The problem of Kosovo’s political future – advanced autonomy within the FRY, full ‘republic’ status within the FRY, newly independent state, or merger with Albania – also concerns regional neighbours. Montenegro and Macedonia both have ethnic Albanian minorities, and recent events in Kosovo as well as NATO’s action have greatly increased tensions in Macedonia. The drive for a ‘greater Albania’ can be no less destabilising for the southern Balkans than the one for a ‘greater Serbia’ has been.

 

A more detailed update, also useful as a briefing note and called ‘Peacemaking through Protectorate’, can be found on the RRN Website