OSCE may stay in Kosovo with narrower mandate

WASHINGTON – Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva said on Monday he was optimistic Europe’s main election watchdog will be able to stay in Kosovo, perhaps with a narrower mandate, if the region declares independence.

The Serbian province’s Albanian majority is widely expected to declare independence and gain recognition from Western states, a move that could endanger the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo.

The OSCE has played a central role in fostering democratic institutions and practices in Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombed Serbian forces out of the province, ending a crackdown on its Albanian majority, and the United Nations took charge.

Kanerva, the OSCE chairman, told Reuters that Russia and Serbia were inclined to use a veto in the 56-nation OSCE — which operates by consensus — to end the mission in Kosovo should it declare independence as expected.

“The best alternative is that the (current) mission will continue. The second best is that we can negotiate a new mandate for the mission. And the third alternative is that the (European Union) will take care of the activities in Kosovo,” he said. “I think that the second one will be realized.”

Diplomats fear the possibility of violence between Kosovo’s Albanian and minority ethnic Serb populations once independence is declared and they hope a continued OSCE mission may help deter this.

Kanerva, who spoke before meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said he was “optimistic” about the chances of negotiating a narrower mandate for the OSCE that would allow it to remain in Kosovo if its existing mission is vetoed.

He suggested the new mandate would be “a little bit more narrow than today, concentrating (on) monitoring and human rights affairs, but also trying to support civil society activities.”

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