Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


Ethnic relations in Kosovo

127. The most depressing aspect of returning to Kosovo after one year was that very little appeared to have changed in relations between the Serbs and the Albanians. The change in regime in Belgrade has not produced a dramatic improvement, and it may even have provoked a decline in relations as the Kosovo Albanians now feel that there is a risk that the international community will favour President Kostunica. Charles Crawford agreed that the Kosovo Albanians may have reacted in this manner.[262] Alan Charlton of the FCO told us that "in the last few weeks there has been a great deal of contact involving members of the Serb community there who have increasing contact with the new government in Belgrade...I think it is certainly the case that the High Representative is consulting members of the Serb community and, indeed, ones who have good contacts with Belgrade."[263] However, it does not matter how moderate the Serbs have become—and there is not yet clear evidence that the Serbs in Kosovo have become more moderate—if they are still being attacked and killed by the Kosovo Albanians. While Milosevic may have started and then exacerbated the conflict between the Kosovo Serbs and Albanians, the conflict now appears to be self-sustaining, with each incident bringing a fresh cycle of reprisals. It is unclear to what extent the violence is motivated by wider political objectives: in a sense this does not matter. As Charles Crawford told us "If people want to talk about a Greater Kosovo or a Greater Serbia or a Greater anything, let them talk, the main thing is they should not fight about it and try to use revolutionary violence, which is really what we are talking about, to accomplish their objectives."[264]

128. As we note above,[265] the overall level of murders has declined, but the Serbs remain bottled up in heavily defended enclaves. There are frequent incidents of intimidation and violence, as well as attacks on Serb religious sites. For example, while we were in Kosovo there was an attempt to firebomb a Serb church. At the end of January, a 15 year old Kosovo Albanian boy was killed in a grenade attack in Mitrovica.[266] In one of the worst recent incidents, possibly in revenge for the killing of the Albanian boy, eight Serbs were killed, and 40 injured, in a bomb attack on a bus which was travelling with a KFOR escort from Serbia to the enclave of Gracanica.[267] On 14 March, French peacekeeping forces used tear gas to break up a crown of some 50 Serbs who had surrounded the police station in northern Mitrovica and set fire to a UN police vehicle, in protest at the recent arrest of three Serbs in connection with an assault on two UN policemen.[268]

129. KFOR attempts to keep two sides apart, and to permit the embattled Serb minority to lead as normal a life as possible under the circumstances. Under Operation TROJAN, launched in March 2000, the United Kingdom contingent in Kosovo has aimed to make life as normal as possible for the Serbs in the United Kingdom sector. Operation TROJAN 2, launched in October 2000, aimed to provide "basic services for the Serb community, focusing on communications, healthcare, education and employment opportunities. Operation TROJAN 3, addressing economic regeneration, was launched on 8 February 2001."[269] UNMIK also works to build confidence between the two sides. Dr von Hippel told us that while "it was not safe for a Serb to drive on their own or walk down the street...on their own...the tension had been reduced significantly." In her view, the situation had improved in the past year.[270]

130. Against this, Misha Glenny told us that "Serbs and Albanians really dislike each other more than anyone else you can come across in the Balkans and Bosnia has a much better possibility of rebuilding relations between the communities than Kosovo does."[271] On the other hand, as Jonathan Steele told us "the issue is not to get people to love each other. It is a question of human rights. We have to make sure that the human rights of every individual now living in Kosovo are guaranteed, that community rights are also protected in terms of language and other facilities that respect people's cultural traditions and autonomy...".[272] Alan Charlton of the FCO acknowledged that "there is not going to be a large­scale return of Serb refugees until the Serbs have confidence that they can live there unmolested and until the security situation is such that they feel safe to do so, and that situation has not yet arrived. That has to remain one of our goals."[273]


131. As we noted in our last report on Kosovo, UNMIK has established twenty administrative departments which are headed jointly by locals and international staff (known as the "Joint Interim Administrative Structure") . These report to a Joint Interim Administrative Council, and the Kosovo Transitional Council has a consultative role.[274] The FCO informed us that "Kosovo Serbs...are also now playing a full role in the Joint Administrative Structures and Kosovo Transitional Council."[275] Our impression during our visit to Kosovo was that the participation of Serbs in these bodies was limited: however, the FCO informed us that Serbs participate regularly in the Interim Administrative Council, as co-heads of the Departments of Labour, and Agriculture and Rural Development, on the Joint Committee on Returns, and as members of the Kosovo Transitional Council (although one of the seats allocated to Serbs on this body has not been filled).[276]


132. The issue of Serbs missing in Kosovo and Kosovo Albanians missing in Serbia is one of the most sensitive in relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and between Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. On 1September 2000, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, appointed Ambassador Henrik Amneus of Sweden as her Special Envoy on "persons deprived of liberty in connection with the Kosovo crisis in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY)."[277]

Serbs missing in Kosovo

133. We heard from the Association of Families of Missing Serbs in Kosovo that there were 1,300 Serbs missing in Kosovo, of whom 962 were registered with the association. The Association had received information from Gracanica that most of these were still alive. According to the Association, there were illegal jails in all areas of NATO operation in Kosovo, as well as legal detention centres run by UNMIK. Escapees had provided information to the International Committee of the Red Cross, but Serbs were routinely circulated between illegal jails, which made it hard to find them. Jonathan Steele told us that "the International Committee of the Red Cross...are constantly investigating this issue of missing persons...they do not believe that there are Serbs held illegally in Kosovo in secret detention camps. I think this is something that people like to believe if their relatives are missing. They like to feel that they must be still alive somewhere. I am afraid the reality probably is that the missing people are now dead."[278] Tim Judah added that "there are still people in the United States who believe that their loved ones are still alive in some detention camp in Vietnam...If they were still alive presumably somebody would be ringing up demanding money or demanding something, but since that is not happening there is no reason to believe it is true."[279]

Albanians missing/detained in Serbia

134. As we discussed above,[280] the recently passed Amnesty Law in Yugoslavia has released only one third of the Kosovo Albanians imprisoned in Serbia. Several of our interlocutors in Kosovo stressed to us how explosive this issue could be, and suggested that the return of only some of the prisoners might provoke manifestations of the Kosovo Albanians' anger on this issue. We recommend that the Government do all it can to facilitate the work of the Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in his work on those deprived of their liberty as a result of the Kosovo conflict, including investigating the fate of those Serbs missing in Kosovo.


135. As we wrote in our Kosovo report, Mitrovica represents one of the most difficult security challenges in Kosovo, and incidents there act to maintain tension elsewhere in Kosovo.[281] The Mitrovica region, which is the northern tip of Kosovo, contains around half of the Serbs left in Kosovo: many of those residing in the Mitrovica area have been expelled or fled from other areas of Kosovo, and therefore have particular reasons for grievances. Because the region abuts Serbia proper, the former Milosevic regime was able to provide support to the Serbs in the area. The Serb part of the region remains thoroughly connected to Serbia proper, with salaries paid from Belgrade, and postal and telephone systems still connected to the Yugoslav networks. Some Serbs see Mitrovica's future as part of Serbia.

136. The north bank of the river Ibar in the town of Mitrovica is almost exclusively Serb, while the south is almost exclusively Kosovo Albanian. French KFOR troops have maintained an uneasy peace between the two sides, with sporadic outbreaks of violence, and attempts by the Serbs to "cleanse" the north of non-Serbs and by the Albanians to "cleanse" the south of Serbs. The latest outbreak of violence took place on 31 January-1 February, following the death in a grenade attack of the 15 year old Kosovo Albanian boy,[282] although as the FCO notes, "inter-ethnic tensions in the town had been high for some time."[283] Multinational KFOR troops were deployed in force, and the situation is currently calm but tense. Kosovo Albanian, UNMIK and KFOR leaders signed a document on 1 February which condemned the violence, and called for an "expansion of the zone of confidence."[284] The zone of confidence is the area, currently confined to a small part of the town near the bridge, within which the two communities can mix. The Kosovo Albanians support its expansion, while the Serbs do not. The FCO notes that "recent incidents including the bombing of a bus carrying Kosovo Serbs near Podujevo on 16 February, have significantly set back the prospects of inter-ethnic reconciliation in Mitrovica."[285]

The future of Kosovo

137. As the Foreign Secretary told us during our Kosovo inquiry, UNSCR 1244 "is quite explicit that Kosovo, for the time being, is part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,"[286] and as we discuss above,[287] there is no possibility of a greater association between Kosovo and Serbia/FRY than exists at present. None of this is to say that there should not be a dialogue, first between UNMIK and Belgrade, and then, in time, between the Kosovo Albanians and Belgrade, to discuss issues of mutual concern. As Charles Crawford told us, the United Kingdom now needed to "send slightly different messages to the Kosovo Albanians that they cannot carry on as if Kosovo is an island in the South Pacific somewhere which has no real links with Belgrade, or has no more links with Belgrade than they have with New Delhi, it is not going to be that way."[288] In his view, "it does not matter...whether you call Kosovo 'independent', a 'confederation' a 'Hong Kong variation' or a 'pineapple', the point is that either there is a strategic attempt by Serbians, Albanians, and to a degree Macedonians, to agree that this has to be sorted out nicely, peaceably and to some degree with European support" or violence will result.[289]

138. Pending such an accommodation, unconstrained independence for Kosovo in the current situation would bring conflict between the Kosovo Albanians and the Kosovo Serbs. Any government in Belgrade, however liberal and democratic, would find it hard to avoid intervening in a conflict between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. Independence might also encourage further fragmentation in other states: Misha Glenny told us that if you "talk to the Macedonians about the independence of Kosovo...then you will get a very hostile response to anything being done prematurely."[290] Independence is therefore out of the question until the safety of Kosovo's minorities can be guaranteed.

139. Between the extremes of independence and some new form of association with Yugoslavia, there have been a number of proposals for changes in the international legal basis of the mission in Kosovo. For example, the Independent International Commission on Kosovo has proposed that Kosovo should be promised "conditional independence," which would entail independence with international guarantees for minorities and Kosovo's borders.[291] This is in many ways an attractive model, although we know of no precedent for such an arrangement. Jonathan Steele told us that "we should be beginning diplomacy at the United Nations (because after all the future status of Kosovo does depend very much on the United Nations) to try and get some serious hard-headed thinking about what should be going forward. My personal bias, as I have made clear, is in favour of the independence of Kosovo. I think that the least that the British Government could do is to say, 'This will never ever be part of Yugoslavia again' so that they should foreclose options. They do not necessarily have to say exactly when independence for Kosovo should come or how its links with the rest of the world should be worked out..."[292]

140. Both of these proposals suggest (or appear to suggest in the case of the Kosovo Commission) that there should be a revision to UN Security Council Resolution 1244. There is a great and understandable reluctance on the part of the United Kingdom Government and other governments involved in Kosovo to re-open the international legal basis of the mission in Kosovo. Gaining Security Council approval for a revised resolution would be an uncertain and quite possibly futile task. Many governments would have great difficulties with sanctioning the secession of Kosovo, given what this would mean for secessionist movements in their own countries. The Kosovo Albanians would be seen, rightly or wrongly, to have gained independence through violence. However, regardless of the eventual settlement of Kosovo's final status, the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 refers to "substantial autonomy and self-government in Kosovo" and it tasks UNMIK with "facilitating a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status."[293] We turn now to that task.


141. The first stage of ensuring that Kosovo's government is subject to democratic control occurred on 28 October 2000 with the elections to municipal councils. According to the FCO, "the high turnout is an indication of the desire of Kosovo's people to support democracy in Kosovo. The high level of support for the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by Dr Rugova, appears to suggest strong support for moderation as the way forward for Kosovo."[294] While the victory of the moderates is to be welcomed, we heard during our visit that the councils tended to adopt a "winner take all" approach, with all posts going to the party winning a majority, even if the majority was only 51 per cent. This is of course normal practice in a number of political systems, but carries particular risks in an area with no tradition of democracy, and which so recently was involved in war. There is also a risk that failure in the elections will make radical Kosovo Albanian elements feel that they do not have a vested interest in developing the institutions of self-government, but rather have a vested interest in radicalising the population by provoking the Serbs into a reaction, and in building up their military strength in order to gain influence in what they hope will soon be an independent Kosovo. Keeping the more radical elements involved in the political structures is clearly one of the challenges facing the international administration in Kosovo. Recent events in Mitrovica and the Presevo valley can to some extent be seen in the light of these elections, as well as the arrival of the new administration in Belgrade (which threatened the extremists by raising the possibility of an accommodation with Belgrade).

142. There is considerable scope for devolving further power from the Special Representative to local structures. Mr Haekkerup, the new head of UNMIK, has said that his highest priority for Kosovo, along with guaranteeing security, was to create a legal framework for the creation of a Kosovo assembly and a provisional self-government.[295] Dr Karin von Hippel, who worked with UNMIK for a year, told us that the process of creating the framework "is quite secretive and I do not think it should be secretive."[296] It is perhaps understandable that the UN administration does not want to ask locals how much control they want: it is difficult to ask a question when you know that you will not like the answer. Nonetheless, consulting as widely as possible will help to ensure that the new institutions to be established in Kosovo are as legitimate as possible in the eyes of the local population. We recommend that the Government encourage UNMIK to consult as widely and as transparently as possible on the future of Kosovo's democratic institutions.

143. It is likely that any such consultation will result in confirmation that Kosovo Albanians have a widespread expectation of independence in the near future, and that any assembly should have extensive powers. The former head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner, told the UN Security Council that "while Kosovo Albanians welcomed the regime change in Belgrade, it would not change their desire for independence."[297] In the long term, it will be difficult for UNMIK to block these aspirations, but it will not be possible to devolve ultimate control, in particular over security issues, without a clear and sustained reduction in the threat against the Serb population of Kosovo. One problem with establishing conditions for the devolution of power is that the moderates may have little influence over the more radical elements, and therefore may be unable to produce an improvement in the security environment even if they desire it. It may be that the radicals have already lost hope of gaining their objectives peacefully—all the more reason for improving the international administration's capacity to tackle illegal behaviour. Regardless of what impact establishing conditions for the devolution of power would have, there is little alternative. The international community would be mistaken to go very far in devolving power without clear signs that violence is under control in Kosovo. Certainly, the possibility of a constituent assembly and independence should be ruled out until the other elements of UNSCR 1244 have been achieved—in particular a "safe environment for all people in Kosovo."[298]

Kosovo conclusion

144. The advent of the new administration in Belgrade has changed the climate in Kosovo as in other parts of the Balkans. At the most basic level, the changes in Belgrade have reduced the threat of a Serb invasion of Kosovo. However, fears among Kosovo Albanians that the international community will "betray" Kosovo now that Milosevic has gone may have been behind the recent upsurge in violence, both within Kosovo, and, as we discuss below, in the Presevo valley and on the border with Macedonia.

145. It may be possible to scale down the mission in Kosovo over time, by devolving more responsibility to local structures, but it is difficult to see the mission ending in the near future, because it will not be possible to lift the international security guarantee on the safety of the Serbian population. This leaves the international community in its current rather uncomfortable and expensive position of holding the line between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. As Alan Charlton of the FCO told us, the mission is going to be "a long, long haul."[299]

146. We conclude that, while there are unsatisfactory elements to the existing situation in Kosovo, immediate independence would be destabilising and reintegration with Serbia would be unlikely in any meaningful timescale. There is considerable scope within UNSCR 1244 for developing a political process aimed at resolving Kosovo's future, as well as developing "provisional democratic self-governing institutions." We recommend that the Government work with its international partners to ensure that the Kosovo Albanians are aware that the further development of those institutions will depend upon a sustained reduction in violence within Kosovo and across its borders. We believe that there should be a different level and intensity of dialogue with the Kosovo Albanians. Such a dialogue should seek to promote much more rapidly the assumption of control over the province through democratic institutions, and continuing aid and support for reconstruction and economic development, in return for cast iron guarantees that the Kosovo Albanians will uphold impartially internal law and order, security for the Serb minorities and the prevention of cross border violence into neighbouring Macedonia and Serbia. We further conclude that the mission in Kosovo is unlikely to be completed for several years. The British Government should be doing its utmost to persuade all those countries contributing to the peace process in Kosovo, including Russia and the United States, to make a commitment of both civilian and military personnel to Kosovo of sufficient length so that the progress achieved to date is built upon and not reversed.

262   Q205. Back

263   Q154. Back

264   Q206. Back

265   See para. 110. Back

266   See para. 136. Back

267 Back

268­SEE/see­140301.html. Back

269   Ev. p.41. Back

270   Q73. Back

271   Q68. Back

272   Q71. Back

273   Q125. Back

274   The role of these bodies is set out in UNMIK regulation 2000/1, available on: See also Kosovo report, paras 226-228.  Back

275   Ev. p.31. Back

276   Ev. p.60. Back

277 Back

278   Q66. Back

279   Q66. Back

280   See paras. 51ff. Back

281   Kosovo report, para 199. Back

282   The Guardian, 31 January 2001. Back

283   Ev. p.40. Back

284   Available from the House of Commons Library. Back

285   Ev. p.41. Back

286   Kosovo report, para 237. Back

287   See para. 73. Back

288   Q210. Back

289   Q228. Back

290   Q85. Back

291   Kosovo Report, Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned, Oxford 2000, The report was produced by a commission chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone and co-chaired by Mr Carl Tham. Back

292   Q81. Back

293   UNSCR 1244, 11 (e). Available at: Back

294   Ev. p.33. Back

295 Back

296   Q65. Back

297   Security Council press release SC 6953, 16 November 2000. Back

298   UNSCR 1244, Annex 2.4. Available at: Back

299   Q125. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001