Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy today began the process of deciding the future status of Kosovo as the United Nations administrator of the Serbian province, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1, voiced caution over possible provocations from "crazies" on all sides.
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, a veteran UN trouble-shooter, was appointed earlier this month to lead the talks on the future status of the province, run by the UN since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove out Yugoslav troops amid grave human rights abuses in fighting between Albanians and Serbs in 1999.
Mr. Ahtisaari met in Pristina, the province's capital, with Albanian leaders and in Decani with Serbian Orthodox Church figures. Tomorrow he will meet with Kosovo Serb representatives and leaders of other minority communities before going on Thursday to the Serbian capital of Belgrade, where officials have declared their opposition to the province's independence.
Mr. Annan's Special Representative for Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, told a news conference yesterday the situation was relatively stable, but "there are crazy people out there on all sides. There are crazy people who believe that they can accelerate the status decision through violence. In fact it would have the opposite effect.
"And there are those who believe that they can block or delay the way forward by provoking violence. They are wrong and they will not be rewarded. But, we know that there will be provocations. We know that there are crazy people out there," he added.
Referring to Mr. Ahtisaari's task as resolving the last piece of the puzzle in a unique situation, he said it was clear that Kosovo cannot be partitioned and cannot link up in any kind of union with a neighbouring State. Greater moves towards decentralization by Kosovo's Albanians are also needed to reassure minorities.
Asked whether it would be good to have a clear deadline on the end of the negotiations, he said he did not think it would help
"But on the other hand, the very fact that the two sides are so far apart and in my opinion will remain quite far apart for a long time would also suggest that prolonging this process would certainly not serve to bring the parties closer," he added. "It would only maintain the status quo and we have already agreed that the status quo is unsustainable.
"So, the deadline would be more set by the recognition of the fact that the status quo is unsustainable, the two sides are far apart – will remain far apart – let us now see how that gap can be narrowed and then take a decision."
He saw a European dimension in the solution and the need for strong involvement by the European Union (EU) after the status decision.
Mr. Jessen-Petersen said there had been far too little done by Kosovo's Albanian leaders in terms of reaching out to the minorities and really showing that Kosovo is strongly committed to being a multi-ethnic society. They needed to do much more.
"But, equally, on the side of Belgrade, one very often gets the impression that it is not the fate, the conditions, the future of the Kosovo Serbs that seem to be most important," he added.
"Clarifying status will clear minds and I believe will open up for the kind of progress that we need to see. We are getting very little movement from the Kosovo Albanians on decentralization because the concern is that decentralization is a cover for the division of Kosovo," he said.
"And, we are getting very little cooperation from the Kosovo Serbs because they have been told by Belgrade not to engage and also, they are worried to engage at this stage where they do not know what the future will be."
Once there is clarity on the future there will be a much stronger engagement, on the part of Kosovo's Albanians, in creating real decentralization that minorities need to feel assured and on the part of the Serbs to take a decision that their future lies in Kosovo.