The Agreement on Disagreement


SUN, 16 JUL 2000

Pristina, July 12, 2000 - Agreement on Understanding signed by the Chief of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Dr Bernard Kouchner and President of the Serbian National Council (SNV), Episcope of Raska - Prizren, Artemije, on the establishment of the climate of cohabitation, seems only to have provoked more misunderstandings.

Eight items of this Agreement, which was primarily signed as a precondition for the Serbian representatives to join again in the work of joint administrative structure, include additional security measures for the Serbian community in Kosovo.

Firstly, UNMIK shall establish special security forces - "Special Task Force" - within the International Police, which will, in cooperation with KFOR form a system of "local guards" so as to ensure maximum possible freedom of movement for members of the Serbian community. Secondly, UNMIK shall intensify its endeavours at engaging, training and deploying a larger number of Serbian nationality members of Police Service in Serbian zones, while SNV will be charged with identifying qualified candidates.

Thirdly, UNMIK shall appoint an international prosecutor and two judges in each of the District Courts in Kosovo and expedite court proceedings against all those arrested under the suspicion of having committed inter-ethnic crimes. In that respect, SNV should help identify qualified candidates that could be appointed as Serbian judges. Item No.4 envisages the application of special programmes for the safe and regular return of Serbs to their homes. Further on, item number five says that UMIK should continue to work intensively with a view to detecting missing persons and releasing the arrested ones.

According to this Agreement, issues of arrested Albanians and abducted Serbs should be treated as problems of equal priority. Item No.6 envisages full implementation of the Cohabitation Agenda which formalises the opening of 13 local offices in zones with concentrated Serbian population with a view to ensuring the work of public services. Also, according to item No.7 UNMIK, shall establish a working group, which would include experts from Kosovo communities, which would give advice in and render a contribution to the preparation of mechanisms for the protection of communities in Kosovo, as part of the process of developing legal frameworks for self-government in Kosovo. Finally, the document envisages the establishment of a joint committee with the Department for Culture, for the protection of Serbian, religious and cultural heritage.

Faced with rather strong reactions of the Albanian leaders, Chief of Civilian Mission, Bernard Kouchner stated that the signing of this document was a reaction to the lack of security that Serbs in Kosovo had to endure. "This is a very important moment in the Agenda on the continued cohabitation, but also in ensuring the safety for all ethnic groups", said Kouchner, thus demanding understanding from the Albanian community and its commitment that it would support this Agreement.

After the signing of the Agreement, Artemije, Episcope of Raska-Prizren, stated that "it was expected for some time and if it proves to be more than just a dead letter, there is hope that future steps will speed up coordination of other activities in Kosovo".

The Agreement was signed on June 29 and just a day later the Serbian representatives came again to the Provisional Administrative Council (PAVK), but this time just as observers. However, it was the first time that President of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK), Hasim Thaqi, did not attend this meeting.

What aroused the interest was the fact that this time no one replaced him, which is common practice at these meetings when main representatives are unable to attend. The local press immediately started speculating, while representatives of this party remained wrapped in a shroud of mystery.

On the other hand, other political parties, which do not participate in the main meetings of the Provisional Administrative Council of Kosovo (PAVK), and which rally the Bosniacs and the Turks, reacted with a release against this Agreement estimating it as the formalisation of efforts aimed at "enclavisation" of Kosovo, which, according to them, was contrary to UN Resolution 1244. Their opposition was mostly based on two facts: the opening of special UNMIK administrative offices in Serb populated enclaves and the establishment of special security forces for them. The most disputable term in this context is still the "neighbourhood watch" (local guards) in the Serb populated zones, which are the forces to be composed of the local population of specific settlements or regions. The UN Mission insisted on the fact that the "guards" could help establish order and security as they would be unarmed. Bernard Kouchner pointed out that the Agreement didn't envisage the creation of Serbian or some other community's police or any protection Serbian troops, but that the term only implied a group of several men who would, in cooperation with KFOR and UNMIK, participate in the establishment of security.

"There is no danger of any abuse of this concept as long as the appointed guards understand that they are neither the police nor soldiers", explained Kouchner. The international officials justify this move by the explanation that the concept proved very successful in Western countries, where there is law and order. They said that they hoped that it would prove equally successful in Kosovo in which, a year after the end of the war, there were still no adequate administrative institutions for the establishment of law and order.

On the other hand, while the media continued to speculate that Hasim Thaqi could be offended by the fact that the Agreement wasn't discussed at meetings of the Provisional Administrative Council, the Civil Administrator Kouchner insisted that the contents of the Agreement were quite contrary to the cantonisation or division of Kosovo and that it only represented a solution to the security problem and that, as such, did not fall within the PAVK's mandate. Kouchner expressed his regret over the fact that Thaqi failed to appear at the meeting, emphasising that both the Provisional Administrative Council and the Transitional Council of Kosovo would continue their work without him. During the period of "silence" Kouchner and Thaqi met several times at the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Kosovo. However, no details of these conversations were disclosed to the public. At the second PAVK meeting, again held without Thaqi, the President of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (DSK), Dr Ibrahim Rugova, and President of the United Democratic Movement (UDP), Rexhep Qosja, gave their comments. They both spoke about a compromise called "provisional agreement". Dr Rugova explained to the press that he accepted the Agreement because it was temporary, which met with the approval of the Serbian National Council. At first, Qosja said that the signing of this Agreement by UMNIK meant legal recognition of Serbian governments in Serbian enclaves and that it was contrary to the UN Resolution 1244. However, when journalists insisted on a more specific explanation of the UDP's discussions and stand in this whole maelstrom, the Academician changed his "highly critical stance". He said that the most important thing was that Bernard Kouchner had promised a "short life" of this Agreement and that it was precisely why he would stay on to "continue the battle". As for Kouchner, he said that this Agreement would be reviewed every six months and would be suspended as soon as conditions permit it.

However, according to the Serbian representative Randjel Nojkic, it seems that this Agreement will not be so short-lived in view of the current security situation and conditions that it depends on. "We have not asked for this Agreement either, it was imposed by current circumstances. We are in favour of it being suspended, but only when inter-ethnic relations and general security situation improve", said Mr.Nojkic who did not forget to mention that both Rugova and Qosja had been very constructive. Hieromonk Sava Janjic insisted that these were no parallel institutions, as these offices would function as part of communal structures and with a view to enabling citizens of Serbian and other nationalities to use the services of communal administration without fear.

And that is when DPK broke its silence. Hasim Thaqi decided to hold a press conference and explain the freezing of his party's participation in joint administrative structures, on which his two partners - Rugova and Qosja - had no comment. Thaqi's explanations actually started with the estimate that the Agreement was a culmination of accumulated dissatisfaction with the PAVK's work. "The territorial integrity of Kosovo had been and is still being violated. KFOR and UNMIK were unwilling to resolve problems. Mitrovica, which was the originator of enclaves, is still divided while no discussion is allowed within PAVK about this or any other problem and question which requires swift action", said Hasim Thaqi. For the Kouchner - Artemije Agreement Thaqi said that it was of political character and written without his consent.

DPK President explained that very serious talks with Kouchner were underway, aimed at overcoming the current situation, while the local press wrote that as a precondition for his possible return to the joint council, Thaqi asked the Civil Administrator to modify the signed Agreement in the first place, as well as to resolve the problems of war veterans, pensioners, arrested and missing persons, etc.

However, in the meantime, Spokeswoman for the Mission, Nadija Junis stated that the Agreement had been signed and all changes were out of the question. "I do not believe that Mrs.Junis is so uninformed about the latest developments", responded Thaqi. Regarding Mr.Kouchner's explanation that this Agreement was linked to the security and was not under PAVK's jurisdiction, Thaqi sent the following message: "In that case, it wouldn't be good of Kouchner to demand the responsibility of the Kosovo leaders. It would be better if he were to undertake some steps against para-military units, Serbian secret services and people who are destabilising Kosovo".

Speaking in general terms, Thaqi warned that the formalisation of the enclaves would contribute to the taking of even more radical steps towards cantonisation of Kosovo "if Albanians fail to be sufficiently active". And there is the rub! Namely, according to him, the Albanian political factors demonstrate their unity only before the press, while in their talks with international representatives they are ready to give in.

The majority of members of the Transitional Council of Kosovo also voiced strong opposition against the Agreement, but all members of this body decided to stay on so as to, as they have put it, "continue the battle". What will be the influence of the freezing of the membership of one political party's representatives in PAVK - no matter how strong or weak it may be - remains to be seen.

In that context, if nothing else, then the Serbian representatives have taught them a lesson. They have managed to obtain the OUN signature on the so much desired Agreement, boycotting on several occasions joint administrative structures. In every boycott, although extremely politically divided, they acted jointly as a "majority", leaving Hasim Thaqi in minority.

Original article