AIM: start

SUN, 18 NOV 2001 23:54:48 GMT

The Haekkerup-Covic Document under Fire

AIM Pristina, November 9, 2001

"The Serb community in Kosovo will enjoy safety, freedom of movement, access to all public services and justice; Kosovo will not be declared an independent state by institutions that will be created after elections of Nov. 17; Yugoslavia's territorial integrity is reaffirmed..." This is the gist of the agreement reached by Kosovo administrator Hans Haekkerup and Belgrade officials cemented by a document signed by Haekkerup and Nebojsa Covic, Serbian vice premier and special envoy for Kosovo... Almost all reactions say that this was the price Haekkerup paid to have Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica urge Kosovo Serbs to participate in Kosovo's general elections.

The document was the result of marathon negotiations between UNMIK and Belgrade officials in which neither Kosovo Albanians nor Kosovo Serbs participated. The former awaited the results with apprehension, convinced that "concessions were being given to Belgrade," and the latter were equally apprehensive and suspicious, afraid that they could once more "be sacrificed" by Belgrade for "political purposes," although the promises made in the document are common, everyday things that should hardly be addressed by a treaty...

The news of the deal reached Kosovo together with administrator Haekkerup, who set aside 15 minutes to show Albanian representatives the document. Afterward he held a special press conference to explain with balanced words that it is no more than "a reaffirmation of UNMIK's mandate within the framework of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244."

The fact is, however, that the presentation of the agreement provoked an explosion of emotions and fierce reactions among ethnic Albanian politicians. As soon as its contents was made public in Pristina, on Kosovo's Public Radio & TV a debate was organized to explain to the population that the document was totally unacceptable. The local press responded more or less in the same vein, both through its articles and editorials. Not fully informed about what the document contained, the Kosovo public took for granted that it was against its interests and the interests of Kosovo. Fear of a possible "return of Serbian and Yugoslav jurisdiction over Kosovo" only made the Kosovo Albanians' resentment even greater.

Leaders of all Kosovo Albanian political parties spoke out against the document, and the three groups that are mostly likely to win seats in the future Kosovo Assembly were crucial in forming public opinion. Hashim Thaci, president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and the former political leader of Albanian guerrillas, said the document was totally unacceptable. He made it the focus of his election campaign. "The protagonists of this document should realize that Kosovo has opted for integration with global democratic processes, instead of a regressive process of returning Kosovo to Serbia," he said. He claimed the paper was in violation of Resolution 1244, and that it marked the beginning of the "disgraceful Constitutional Framework for Kosovo," adopted last May 15. Thaci was particularly offended by the fact that the Serbian vice premier, Nebojsa Covic, was called in the document "the head of Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija," a toponym that is loathed by Kosovo Albanians. Thaci was probably referring to this when he said: "Everybody needs to understand that Kosovo is Kosovo, and not Kosovo and Metohija."

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, led by Ramush Haradinaj, believes that the Haekkerup-Covic agreement is detrimental and dangerous for the future of Kosovo and the region. "We do not recognize the agreement, it does not oblige us, and we will pay no heed to it," said his clear and curt message. Haradinaj, on the other hand, said his party was in favor of democratic processes in Kosovo and is working towards "building democratic institutions of an independent state of Kosovo, fully separated from Yugoslavia, whatever the price."

The Democratic Alliance of Kosovo also reacted to the agreement. The party president, Ibrahim Rugova, addressing his supporters, said the paper was unacceptable and told them not to worry: "... We are here together with UNMIK, KFOR, and the international community." The party's press service said the following: "The document perfidiously undermines the essence of Kosovo's independent institutions and their right to exercise power inside of Kosovo, thereby providing for a true system of representative democracy." Numerous editorials said among other things the following: "Albanians and NATO did not wage and win the war in Kosovo so that the sovereignty of Yugoslavia could be reaffirmed and to support Serbia's plans to retain Kosovo and Montenegro under its rule, or to make Kosovo an administrative entity. The true essence of Resolution 1244 is to make Kosovo's position outside Yugoslavia/Serbia as legitimate in the transitional period, until Kosovo's status is finally resolved, taking the will of the people of Kosovo into account. And the will of the people is well known -- self-determination transformed into independence..."

It all indicated that the beginning of a political crisis between UNMIK and Albanian leaders was in sight, and only two weeks before the vote. The main issue was: Does UNMIK have a solution for the crisis, as it did when the participation of Kosovo Serbs in the elections was in question? Tension subsided within 24 hours...

Politicians launched a campaign against the document on two fronts: on one hand, they criticized UNMIK and blamed each other, but simultaneously called for national unity. Analysts hurried to warn that Kosovo leaders should not be allowed to blast one another during the election campaign in order to obtain greater support thanks to a document that was not "theirs." They even believe that the document is worse that the Constitutional Framework for Kosovo. This was given a specially prominent place in a joint declaration issued by the Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, at a meeting convened by Thaci that was not attended either by Ibrahim Rugova or any representative of his party.

UNMIK, on the other hand, was confused by Albanian leaders' reactions and its officials hastened to stress the document did not violate U.N. Resolution 1244 or the Constitutional Framework, but merely confirmed UNMIK's efforts to improve the position of Kosovo Serbs. They insisted that the document did not envisage Yugoslavia's return to Kosovo, and Haekkerup himself said that "neither the document nor Resolution 1244 rule out a single option for resolving the final status of Kosovo." UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel was even more direct: "The document does not mark an end to Kosovo Albanians' dreams of independence." One other thing that certainly contributed to calming tensions was the fact that UMNIK officials clearly rejected the interpretation of the agreement given by Serbian Vice Premier Nebojsa Covic, who tried to convince the Serbian public that "the document ensures the return of Yugoslavia and Serbia to Kosovo." "That is simply not true," said Haekkerup.

Still, the authority of the head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo was challenged. Maybe this is why immediately upon his return from Belgrade Haekkerup asked assistance from Contact Group representatives located in Kosovo. After a meeting they all spoke in favor of the agreement. The U.S. Office in Pristina issued a press release saying: "The document signals a clear determination of both sides to intensify attempts and reach the goals set forth in U.N. Resolution 1244. In relation to that, we would like to stress the importance of elections that are to be held and their significance in building democratic self-government in Kosovo." This was a rather brief but clear message.

The debate, however, continued and Kosovo Albanians' views are increasingly divergent. Independent observers and parties with more critical views towards Albanian politics, claim that Albanian reactions were mostly an attempt to take advantage of the document during the election campaign. Thus certain circles believe that leaders who kept promising Kosovo's independence throughout the campaign now have to find someone to blame for the failure of this plan, although they were fully aware that the institutions that will be created after the Nov. 17 elections are not authorized to determine Kosovo's status."

The fact is that all three sides -- the Albanians, the Serbs and UNMIK -- are taking the same stance: they all unconditionally defend U.N. Resolution 1244, although the first two consider it an ominous document, threatening to their aspirations. What Kosovo Albanians are fiercely against is their participation in a joint group to monitor the resolution's implementation. They view this as recognition of Serbs' demand that Kosovo be administered jointly, which for them is "the beginning of turning Belgrade into a key factor in determining the status of Kosovo."

Besnik Bala