Kosovo follows risky path with plan to give EU sweeping powers

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The Independent Online

Kosovo is set to follow the path of Bosnia-Herzegovina in giving the balance of power to international overseers enabling them to ignore elected leaders, under draft UN plans seen by The Independent.

The European Union mission which is set to take over from the UN in the breakaway province of Kosovo, will be given sweeping powers over locally elected authorities in a scheme which strongly resembles the fruitless international effort in Bosnia.

The future of the province is subject to tense talks between international mediators, the Serbian government and representatives of the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

Kosovo's Albanian community - more than 90 percent of the province's 2 million population - wants to establish an independent state, while Serbia has insisted Kosovo remain part of its territory.

The US and Western powers expect the upcoming UN ruling to result in conditional independence for Kosovo, despite Serbia's objections.

Once that status is agreed the draft plan calls for the establishment of an International Civil Representative (ICR), much like that existing in Bosnia. They would then have the authority to annul Kosovo government decisions as well as laws adopted by the local parliament and to replace officials whose policy is not in tune with the demands of the EU.

Similar powers in Bosnia-Herzegovina have already created huge resentment against the Office of the High Representative, particularly among Bosnian Serbs and Croats.

The office of the ICR will also overlook the work of Kosovo's police, judiciary, customs and penal institutions.

Besides Pristina, there will be two subordinated offices, one in the northern town of Mitrovica where most Kosovo Serbs live and another in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Kosovo is currently run by a UN administration supplemented by a nucleus of local democratic institutions. In effect, it ceased to be part of Serbia in 1999, after 11 weeks of Nato air strikes prompted by Belgrade's violent oppression of the ethnic Albanians. Local leaders have insisted on independence since the Serbian surrender, but it is not mentioned in this plan.

Instead the only describes what happens once the status is decided, through negotiations undertaken by the UN's Finnish special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. However, the plan, which was created under the mandate provided by the EU security chief Javier Solana earlier this year, foresees the steps that will lead to the EU presence in Kosovo.

Once the status is clear, the office of ICR will take over from the UN administration. At the same time, Nato peacekeepers will remain in the province, as well as the OSCE, much like in Bosnia.

International diplomatic sources in Belgrade say that the decision on Kosovo's status is likely to be made in the first months of 2007.