War In The Balkans: Analysis - A diplomatic victory, but obstacles still litter the rocky road to peace

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The Independent Online
IT RUNS to just four-and-a-half pages and contains 20 points. But the draft United Nations resolution agreed yesterday by the leading Western countries and Russia is the nearest there will be to a Kosovo peace treaty - a treaty imposed by the great powers on a Yugoslavia that no longer had any choice in the matter.

Like every international crisis, Kosovo has spawned its diplomatic neologisms. This time, the new buzzword is "sequencing" - or "synchronicite" to render the concept in the language in which it was invented. A plain English translation would be something like "getting things in the right order". And if ever the right order mattered, it was in the search for a settlement in Kosovo.

One of the trickiest aspects of the two-day negotiating marathon in Germany was how to choreograph the timetable of peace - in other words how to marry the competing demands of Nato, Russia, and (though no alliance member would admit it) the Serbs, in a fashion acceptable to all. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, likened the process to "pulling round a towel roll for 24 hours." But an order of events has been agreed. The "sequencing" may yet collapse - but the following is the intended endgame in Kosovo.

Step 1

Yesterday's draft resolution. Its mere existence can be held by the Serbs to meet their insistence that troop withdrawal from Kosovo cannot start without a UN agreement. That agreement now exists, albeit only in the shape of a draft - a "blue paper" which the full Security Council has yet to approve.

Step 2

The most vital: a start on withdrawal. This, Nato insists, must be verifiable - not simply a promise by Belgrade to pull out its 40,000 troops from Kosovo, but visible proof it has begun to do so.

Step 3

A bombing pause, which will be extended as the pull-out continues. This has been Nato's approach from the outset of the crisis ("we don't want another Basra road" one Foreign Minister put it). Crucially however, it gets round the Russian threat to veto any Security Council resolution while the bombing campaign continues. If Russia is goes along, then China, for all its public insistence on an immediate, unconditional end to the bombing, will almost certainly sign on as well.

Step 4

What diplomats say will be "virtually simultaneous" formal approval of the UN resolution. Though this does not mention Nato by name in connection with the peace-keeping force, it hardly deviates from the original peace package presented to Mr Milosevic by the Russian envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, and accepted by Belgrade.

Step 5

The continuing phased but rapid withdrawal of all Serb forces. The deployment of deployment of an international security force will be synchronised, to avoid any vacuum on the ground. "We'd practically be following the red of the Serb tail-lights," a diplomat said.

Step 6

At this point, Nato should be home free. The "hot" part of the crisis would be over, and whatever happened thereafter would be under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, placing Kosovo's civil and security administrations under the responsibility of the secretary- general and the Security Council. The long haul, however, would be only beginning: the restoration of a basic infrastructure in Kosovo, the return of the refugees, the rebuilding of the province and the creation of a functioning, autonomous political system.

Steps 1-5 could happen very quickly. The UN Security Council resolution has to be considered by other members of the Security Council - first and foremost China, the only country with veto powers that does not belong to G8. But few surprises are expected and final approval in New York could come as soon as today.

The Ahtisaari/Chernomyrdin plan meanwhile calls for total Serb withdrawal within seven days. There are obvious potential pitfalls: among them what Mr Cook yesterday called "another fast one by Milosevic", a refusal by the Yugoslav generals, continued violence by Serb paramilitaries, diplomatic obstructionism by the Chinese, even another volte face by the Russians, or any combination of the above. But if things do go according to plan, a first portion of the international force would be in place within a couple of weeks.

Step 6 is another matter, however. The Nato-led force must keep the peace between the Kosovo Albanians and those Serbs who remain. It must disarm the KLA, prevent unauthorised Serb forces from returning, and restore basic civil necessities. That could take months. Economic and political reconstruction will surely take years.

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