Albanian Daily News - Dec 16

UN and Kosovo Albanians sign deal on co-administration

Albanian Economic Tribune

PRISHTINA - Three ethnic Albanian leaders signed a power-sharing agreement with the UN administration in Kosovo on Wednesday aimed at bringing more political stability to the province, but no one from the Serb minority offered to join the body.

Claiming a "very important breakthrough" for Kosovo, UN administrator Bernard Kouchner signed an accord, which envisages the creation of a new interim administration, with Hashim Thaci of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League for Kosovo and Rexhep Qosja of the Unified Democratic Movement.

"It’s an important moment which will be history," Kouchner said after the event.

But in a sign of the ethnic tensions still gripping Kosovo, no Serbs attended the signing and a spokeswoman for Kouchner’s international administration (UNMIK) said they were still looking for a Serb representative.

"The Serbs are welcome. We don’t want an empty seat. We have sent them a copy of the agreement," Kouchner said.

Despite the Serbs’ absence, the head of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR), General Klaus Reinhardt, said Wednesday’s pact was the "most important agreement since UNMIK and KFOR have been here."

"It sets the pace for the future," he said.

Kouchner announced the creation of a new joint administrative body on Tuesday in hopes of breaking a deadlock in the Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC), a consultative body that had been boycotted for months by Serbs and by certain Albanians, including Thaci, who only returned to the panel last week.

Government-style Council

The new joint interim administration will retain Kouchner as its legislative and executive head and will feature an interim administrative council made up of four UNMIK officials and four local political leaders.

Every decision of the new council will be subject to veto by Kouchner, who will have two deputies, with one of the posts rotating between Thaci, Rugova and Qosja and one a Kosovo Serb who has yet to be named. Each will hold office for two months. The other vice-chairman will be an UNMIK official, Kouchner’s deputy, American Jock Covey.

Kouchner’s first "co-president" will be Hashim Thaci - leader of a self-styled ethnic Albanian "provisional government."

The administration is to have 14 departments to cover health, education, social welfare and other portfolios. Each department will be jointly led by one UNMIK and one Kosovo official, and will function like government ministries. However, there will be no defence or international cooperation departments in the new body. Security issues are dealt with by KFOR. The nomination of the local department leaders is likely to be the first battle within the administration, an UNMIK source said.

Kouchner said Tuesday he expected the joint administration to last for six to nine months, when he hopes to be able to hand over to a democratically elected government. The new body is to be established immediately and is expected to absorb all existing administrative structures - including Thaci’s self-styled government - and be in operation by January 31.

NATO and UN leaders have said they want to create a multiethnic society in Kosovo, but their efforts have been plagued by ethnic violence - particularly attacks by ethnic Albanians against Serbs, who have continued to flee Kosovo. The attacks are in revenge for the deaths of an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians killed in the 18-month Serb crackdown.

Under the agreement, the three Kosovo Albanian leaders - Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci and Rexhep Qosja - are to work with the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, sources said.

The Kosovo Albanian leaders exert tremendous influence on the province’s 1.4 million people, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanian.

Independence Process?

In New York, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard denied that the move to add Kosovo’s leaders to the province’s administration was a tacit admission by the United Nations that after six months it couldn’t run the province effectively without their help. Eckhard said the world body had never wanted to impose a dictatorship in Kosovo.

Allowing local political leaders to begin working in democratic institutions would help in a transition to autonomy, Eckhard said, adding that the United Nations would remain in charge until then.

All three ethnic Albanian members of the new body, Thaci, Rugova and Qosja, insisted the formation of the council was part of a process that would ultimately take Kosovo out of Yugoslavia.

"The solution is independence," said Rugova.

The rivalry between Rugova and Thaci had hampered efforts to form a united body in the six months since NATO forces occupied Kosovo. The two leaders appeared to clash even on the podium of Wednesday’s news conference.

"This agreement has been violated right now, it has lasted only three minutes," said Thaci, after Rugova made comments implying he would retain his post of "president" of Kosovo until future elections, rather than relinquish it immediately.

Thaci, whose former KLA guerrillas have been disarmed and restyled as a "protection corps" with an ill-defined role, said Wednesday’s agreement would help create an effective police force.

International authorities expect to hold local elections next year, but any elections to a Kosovo-wide body raise delicate issues of Kosovo’s future status. Most Kosovo Albanians want full independence, a move so far opposed by foreign powers.

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