Although democratic progress in Kosovo has been uneven, talks should begin now on the future status of the UN-administered province of Serbia and Montenegro, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council in a letter released today.
In the letter accompanying a report of his Special Envoy for the Comprehensive Review of Kosovo, Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway, Mr. Annan writes that he accepts the study's finding, and intends to prepare for the possible appointment of another special envoy to lead the process on future status.
In his report, Mr. Eide writes: "There will not be any good moment for addressing Kosovo's future status," and calls the situation "grim" for founding a multi-ethnic society in the Serbian province where ethnic Albanians outnumber other communities, mainly Serbs, by about nine to one. "It will continue to be a highly sensitive political issue.
"Nevertheless, an overall assessment leads to the conclusion that the time has come to commence this process. The political process, which is now under way, must continue," he adds stressing the urgent need for further progress in implementation of the so-called standards.
These cover eight targets in such areas as building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and establishing an impartial legal system.
"Kosovo will not in the foreseeable future become a place where Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs are integrated," Mr. Eide writes. "They probably never were. Nevertheless, the reconciliation process should start. It must come from inside Kosovo and be embraced by all communities," he adds.
"The main burden will fall on the shoulders of the leaders of the majority population," he says, but adds that the international community must encourage reconciliation and provide active support.
Detailing the standards, Mr. Eide notes that the rule of law is hampered by a lack of ability and readiness to enforce legislation at all levels, and organized crime and corruption have been characterized as the biggest threats to stability Kosovo.
The overall security situation is stable, but fragile, he says. While the level of reported crime, including inter-ethnic crime, is low, there are frequently unreported cases of low-level, inter-ethnic violence and incidents, hampering freedom of movement.
"The overall return process has virtually come to a halt," he writes of the Serbs who fled when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999.
"The general atmosphere in many places is not conducive to return. Multi-ethnicity is often not seen as a goal," he adds, noting that as many or more Kosovo Serbs are leaving than are returning. "A viable return process will require support and attention over a longer period of time, in particular to facilitate access to services and repossession of land."
To achieve sustainable return and viable minority communities, a wider decentralization process will be required, he says.
"Determining the future status of Kosovo will in itself be a demanding challenge," the report concludes. "The international community must do the utmost to ensure that, whatever the eventual status, it does not become a 'failed' status."
Kosovo cannot remain indefinitely under international administration. However, it will continue to depend on a significant international presence on the ground, the report adds. "Entering the future status process does not mean entering the last stage, but the next stage of the international presence."