"Northern Kosovo should be autonomous"

BELGRADE -- The technical dialogue between Belgrade and Priština "should become more political", said Carnegie Europe Endowment expert Stefan Lehne.

According to him, the current talks - sponsored by the EU and held in Brussels since last March - should be guided toward the issue of autonomy for northern Kosovo.

Serbs are the majority north of the Ibar River, and reject the ethnic Albanian unilateral declaration of independence made in early 2008.

Now Lehne told Belgrade-based daily Politika that "although the technical dialogue of Belgrade and Priština has been productive, in order to achieve a significant improvement in relations, a more political and ambitious process is necessary".

Lehne, a former envoy for the Balkans of former EU high representative Javier Solana, proposed in an analysis for the European branch of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the EU immediately name a special envoy who would direct the process, adding that the essence of northern Kosovo's autonomy is yet to be negotiated.

"Instead of taking any model from some other part of the world, the agreement needs to fit the situation in northern Kosovo. A balance needs to be struck between the desire of the local population to control their own destiny and the fact that the region will still be part of Kosovo and will have to have ties with the authorities in Priština," believes Lehne.

Asked if he expects new conditions will be put before Serbia before it can start accession talks with the EU, Lehne said important EU leaders have expressed the desire to see "parallel structures" abolished.

"Serbian President Boris Tadić's proposal on regional autonomy in northern Kosovo is a way to solve the problem. An autonomous region in northern Kosovo would transform the structures into legitimate Kosovo institutions," Lehne was quoted as saying.

Lehne said it was "contradictory" that Belgrade constantly refers to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, "and then violates it by calling local elections in Kosovo".

"An option to consider is to have an international body, for example OSCE, organize local elections as a special interim measure, until agreement is reached on northern Kosovo," said Lehne.