The United Nations today outlined a further transfer of economic power to local officials in Kosovo, as it speeds up preparations for final status talks on the ethnically divided province that it has run since 1999, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove Yugoslav troops out amid Albanian-Serb fighting.
"We will change the composition over time in such a way that we 'Kosovarize' the economic institutions," Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special representative Søren Jessen-Petersen told a news conference after meeting with Prime Minister Ramush Haradina. He defined Kosovarization as "having Kosovars in the majority and the internationals in the minority."
He said the chairmanship of the Economic and Fiscal Council would now be held by the Prime Minister, instead of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The composition of other bodies, such as the board of directors of the Banking and Payments Authority of Kosovo, would also be changed in the future.
The management of socially-owned forest land will be transferred to the government, he added, noting that socially-owned forest covers a quarter of Kosovo and is of substantial economic importance.
Last week Mr. Jessen-Petersen announced agreement with Mr. Haradina's government on speeding up moves towards a multiethnic society, noting that all involved had a very tight timetable to meet by mid-2005, when they need to show clear progress to move on to final status talks. Today both stressed that progress on the so-called Standards remains Kosovo's highest priority.
The Standards - eight goals in such areas as building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and establishing an impartial legal system - are seen as a crucial step on the road to determining the final status of Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber other communities, mainly Serbs, by about 9 to 1. Before NATO's intervention the province was ruled from Belgrade, Serbia's capital.
In March, the province was shaken by the worst violence in the five years of UN administration when an onslaught by Albanian extremists to drive out Serb, Roma and Askhali communities led to 19 people being killed, nearly 1,000 injured and hundreds of homes and centuries-old Serbian cultural sites razed or burned.