Today’s Christian Science Monitor asks the very pertinent question of what the 4,000-odd UN personnel in Kosovo are to do in a region whose status as an independent country is, to say the least, still up in the air. A compromise proposal negotiated last year by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari laid out the groundwork to transition from the UN’s eight-year stewardship of the region to an EU-monitored independence, but the virulence of the Serbian and Russian reaction to Kosovo’s declaration has trammeled any hopes of a smooth handover. From the Monitor:

Unable to recognize the newly declared state without a new mandate from headquarters in New York, workers on the ground are left wondering what exactly their job is — and how long they’ll be here. For now, any work on a planned European Union takeover of police and justice responsibilities is on hold.

“We have received no instructions to proceed with transition,” says Alexander Ivanko, the UN’s spokesman in Pristina.

EU leaders agreed to send an 1,800-strong police and judiciary mission to Kosovo to replace the UN administrative mission following Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on Feb. 17, and it is preparing to deploy.

Until the EU actually deploys — and Serbia is sending signals that it will continue to resist this deployment — UN personnel remain guided by the mandate of the 1999 Security Council resolution that created the mission, even though the scope of that mandate is clearly out of synch with the tension of the current situation. Caught in this awkward bind, UN staff are unfairly feeling the squeeze of the international showdown over Kosovo’s status; Serbs in Kosovo are suddenly supporting the UN as a bulwark against EU presence. To overcome this threat to its impartial presence, the UN Mission in Kosovo needs both clear definition from the Security Council and greater openness from Serbia and Russia to the EU’s proposed role.

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