- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo | Days before the West begins one of the most ambitious nation-building experiments in modern history, profound questions remain about how the day-to-day governance of Kosovo will be handled.

Kosovo now has its own government. But the U.N. mission that effectively ruled the former province of Serbia since 1999 is still here.

The country’s new constitution, which takes effect Sunday, envisions no role for the United Nations, because that would imply lack of sovereignty, but it authorizes the European Union to help run Kosovo.

The EU mission, however, is viewed as illegitimate by Serbia and by its ally, Russia, which both consider Kosovo part of Serbian territory.

They say that only the U.N. Security Council can bestow the needed legitimacy on the EU mission. But the council, where Russia holds a veto, is deeply divided on how to resolve the issue.

Some are hoping U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon can sort things out.

Still, it is not clear whether Mr. Ban’s decision will lessen the confusion among Kosovo´s 2 million people, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. The rest are Serbs and other minorities.

“Three masters are too much for Kosovo,” Bardh Hamzaj, editor in chief of the daily Zeri, said in reference to the national government, the EU and the U.N. “It´s not clear who will do what.”

At this point, more is known about the EU’s role here after Sunday than the future of the U.N. mission, which was established after the NATO military campaign against Serbia nine years ago.

The 27-member EU has sent a special representative, Pieter Feith, who also heads the International Civilian Office (ICO). Some say he will be the most powerful man in Kosovo after Sunday because he will have the last word when political agreement on various issues cannot be reached.

Still, Mr. Feith insisted in an interview that he and his colleagues are here only to “help” elected officials who “are looking forward to running their own house.”

The main problem for the EU is that the Serbs, most of whom live in northern Kosovo, do not recognize the EU´s authority - but they are still willing to work with the U.N. mission, Mr. Feith said. That could provide a “new focus” for the U.N. mission.

U.N. officials know that their days in Kosovo are numbered, though they insist that the mission still has a mandate under Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 that created it.

“We are not deaf and blind,” said the U.N. mission´s chief, Joachim Ruecker. “As always, we are trying to adapt and to be as pragmatic as possible.”

Most Western diplomats here foresee a role for the U.N. mission for another few months, mainly because the EU mission is not ready for a full deployment yet. A formal invitation from the Kosovo government will be needed for the U.N. mission to stay after Sunday, which Mr. Ban will most likely propose.

Mr. Hamzaj, the newspaper editor, said Kosovars expected the United States to play a bigger role in their new country´s future, having been the driving force behind the 1999 war.

Mr. Feith, who is Dutch, noted that his deputy is an American diplomat, Fletcher Burton, and that the United States will also take part in the EU mission - another first.

Other diplomats said Washington will still have a major role, though for the most part behind the scenes.

The United States and 20 EU states have recognized Kosovo´s independence, which was proclaimed Feb. 17. But the overall total of just over 40 countries that have recognized Kosovo disappoints many Kosovars, who say they expected more support from other Muslim-majority nations.

While Mr. Feith said that the West must “continue to explain to the outside world that there was no alternative to independence,” Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said he has already begun “traveling around the world” trying to “limit the number of countries to recognize Kosovo.”

“The EU has a key role to play,” but it does not have the authority to do what it intends to do under current Security Council documents, Mr. Jeremic said in an interview in Belgrade. Serbia and Russia are seeking another U.N. resolution.

Mr. Feith said that another resolution may be beneficial in further “legitimizing” the EU mission. But he also said “chances are low” that the West will go for it - not only because Resolution 1244 provides sufficient legitimacy, but also because that would reopen the independence-status issue and turn back the clock.

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