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Image Banner: Kosovo: The untold story of a diplomatic breakthrough

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (third from right) addresses a Security Council meeting, after Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008. UN Photo

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (third from right) addresses a Security Council meeting, after Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008. UN Photo


Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 triggered the possibility of renewed instability in the Balkans after a decade-long peace maintained by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority celebrated in the streets, while Serbs protested that it was a violation of sovereignty over a territory long claimed by Serbia as its ancestral heartland. International reaction was similarly sharply divided. As tensions flared, the UN moved quietly behind the scenes, seeking to work out a compromise among key parties in order to avert violence.

The Story

After nearly a decade of United Nations interim administration of Kosovo and several years of inconclusive talks over its status, Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008 threatened to exacerbate tensions in the Western Balkan region.

Serbia vowed never to recognize Kosovo's independence and appealed to the UN Security Council to proclaim Kosovo's declaration of independence null and void. While three permanent members of the Security Council – the United States , Britain and France – soon recognized Kosovo as independent, the two other permanent members, Russia and China , supported Serbia 's insistence on continued sovereignty over Kosovo. The UN maintained its position of strict neutrality on Kosovo's status.

The Albanian majority in Kosovo, constituting over 90 percent of the population of about two million, felt that with independence and the subsequent adoption of a constitution in coordination with recognizing countries, UNMIK should no longer play a significant role on the ground. Meanwhile, the Serbian minority feared UNMIK's departure would be a de facto endorsement of Kosovo as a state and have a negative impact on the security of the Kosovo-Serb community.

With the Security Council in a stalemate, the situation on the ground turned violent when Kosovo-Serbs attacked customs gates in the north of Kosovo two days after the independence declaration. The violence escalated when protesters took over an UNMIK courthouse in north Mitrovica in March. A UN police officer was killed and dozens of other police officers and civilians were injured during the operation to retake the courthouse. Urging restraint from all parties, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered a dialogue with Belgrade in an effort to safeguard the region's stability.

Assisted by then Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Secretary-General worked closely with the European Union, the United States and Russia to reach a compromise that recognized key areas of mutual interest. The “Kosovo package” that emerged from these talks enabled UNMIK to adjust its role with the consent of the parties, within the framework of Security Council resolution 1244, which had established an international presence in Kosovo in 1999. The Secretary-General authorized the reconfiguration of the international civil presence in Kosovo, adjusting UNMIK's operations to a reality that had fundamentally changed when the Kosovo Constitution came into force in June 2008. The compromise also paved the way for Belgrade 's eventual acceptance of an enhanced role for the European Union in rule of law areas under the overall authority of the United Nations.

In November 2008, the Security Council— in its most significant unanimously agreed decision on Kosovo in a decade —adopt ed a Presidential Statement that supported the Secretary-General's approach, averting a crisis that threatened hard-won stability in south-eastern Europe . EULEX deployed peacefully throughout Kosovo in December 2008, assuming operational responsibility in the areas of policing, justice and customs. As a result, UNMIK police ceased operations and UNMIK proceeded to phase out its rule of law component.

The Context 

  • The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was established in June 1999 to administer the Serbian province after NATO-led forces replaced Yugoslav troops following NATO air strikes to end inter-ethnic fighting that killed an estimated 10,000 people. Under Security Council resolution 1244, Kosovo was placed under interim UN administration, pending a determination of its future status.
  • Following Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, the UN dialogue with Belgrade focused on arrangements to address key areas: police, courts, customs, transport and infrastructure, boundaries and Serbian patrimony.
  • The UN initiative calmed a tense political situation and bolstered moderate, pro-European forces in Serbia ahead of elections in May 2008. The new Serbian government agreed to UNMIK's reconfiguration and the deployment of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) under the overall authority and within the status neutral framework of the United Nations.

  • On 15 June 2008, the Kosovo Constitution came into force, handing over executive power to the majority ethnic Albanian government.

  • UNMIK's reconfiguration, initiated in September 2008, reduced staff by 90 per cent by June 2009 . UNMIK has refocused its work to carry out political and monitoring functions, community support and facilitation of dialogue and external relations, as outlined by the Secretary-General in his 12 June 2008 report to the Security Council.

  • In October 2008, a request from Serbia resulted in the UN General Assembly asking the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on whether the declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo was in accordance with international law.

  • Serbia 's consent to the deployment of EULEX facilitated a positive change in the Security Council. On 26 November 2008, the Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement on Kosovo that welcomed the dialogue with Belgrade , UNMIK's reconfiguration, and EULEX's assumption of responsibility in rule of law areas.

  • About 60 UN Member States recognized Kosovo as an independent country by mid-2009.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations:
Nick Birnback, Chief of Peacekeeping Public Affairs Unit
Tel: +1 917 367 5044
Send an email

UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK):
Russell Geekie, Spokesperson
Tel: +381 38 504 604 (ext. 5612)
Send an email

USEFUL WEB LINKS:

UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)
http://www.unmikonline.org/

UN News Centre
www.un.org/News