Whatever the final status of the United Nations-administered Serbian province of Kosovo, majority Albanians must discuss decentralization and minority Serbs must participate in the talks, the UN special envoy on the issue said today.
“My understanding is we will see the parties discussing decentralization in Vienna, hopefully in the latter part of January,” former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, whose UN Office of Special Envoy in Kosovo (UNOSEK) is based in the Austrian capital, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York.
Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1. Serbia rejects independence for the province which the UN has run ever since North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave rights abuses in ethnic fighting.
Mr. Ahtisaari, who visited all parties to the dispute last month, said he had set no “artificial deadlines” for the final status talks although he would like to see them completed within the one-year timeframe of his contract.
He stressed the need for implementation of the so-called Standards, eight targets that include building democratic institutions, enforcing minority rights, creating a functioning economy and setting up an impartial legal system.
“My message to Kosovo Albanians in my discussions was that they should use this opportunity… to put more effort into the implementation of standards,” he said. “We have to realize as well that standards are for ensuring a functioning democratic society and furthermore they are Kosovo’s key to life and Serbia’s key to Europe.”
It is clear that one of the crucial issues is the protection of non-Albanian communities in Kosovo and that everyone realizes this requires reform structure and local self-government, he added. Kosovo Albanians must take this into consideration and engage in talks on decentralization, and the Serbs must participate in the process.
In a report in July, Mr. Annan's Special Representative for Kosovo Søren Jessen-Petersen stressed the need for stronger commitment by Kosovo’s Albanian leaders to move forward on the return of Serbs who fled their homes during the fighting as well as on freedom of movement.
Last month, he said far too little had been done by Albanian leaders in terms of reaching out to minorities and really showing that Kosovo is strongly committed to being a multi-ethnic society.