The UN Administration for north Mitrovca (UAM) was established in November 2002 to fill the legal space between the Belgrade-controlled local administration, left in place since the 1999 NATO intervention, and the UN administration south of the Ibar based in Pristina. Then-SRSG Steiner signed the UN regulation so determining and provided for UAM to be responsible for the area of the municipality of Mitrovica north of the Ibar River. UAM remains the only legal government of north Mitrovica under UNSCR 1244, which the ICJ reaffirmed last year as valid international law.
UAM was founded during a tense period of conflict and was meant to stabilize the situation pending a future political resolution of the underlying status issue. The functioning of UAM was always part fiction, part effort to bridge the divide between the Serb majority and the Albanian minority on the north side. The reality was a UNMIK overlay upon the existing Serbian structure that Pristina liked to call “parallel.” UAM received funding from the central Kosovo budget and sought to use those funds to assist all communities in the north while also working to deconflict competing agendas and keep the peace. The job was difficult and UAM was often seen as the enemy by both sides. But the peace held and north Mitrovica became the only urban center in Kosovo where all the ethnic communities mixed and did business.
In the Balkans, if you are not for me, you must be against me. Since the 2008 UDI, the Kosovo Albanian side has increasingly turned against UAM because it did not bring the Serbs under the rule of Pristina. Over the past months, the Albanians have tried in various ways to undermine and get rid of UAM with the support of the US embassy and the ICO. 2010 was supposed to be the year in which the ICO's “northern strategy” would lead to the imposition of Pristina's control in the north and the replacement of UAM by a municipal government operating as part of Kosovo. This failed due to the northern Serb resistance. Now the Pristina government and ICO say they will try again in 2011. The northerners say they still refuse and Belgrade is reminding everyone that northern Kosovo still requires a peaceful settlment.
UAM remains a key element of the effort to keep the peace pending a political settlement. UAM provides legitimacy for the reality on the ground – where the Serbs reject Pristina's authority and Kosovo's independence – and still plays a role in helping all communities find practical ways to co-exist. It remains too a link between Pristina and the people and local administration of north Mitrovica. Without UAM on the ground in the north, there would be the institutional vacuum that Steiner wisely decided to fill in 2002. Contrary to claims by some in Pristina, UAM's disappearance would not lead to the Serbs accepting Pristina's “decentralization” or the ICO's municipal preparation team (MPT). It would lead to further partition and even violence as the boundary between north and south would then be up for grabs: the Ibar as now or along the uneven line between Serbs and Albanians on the north shore?
Pristina's international supporters – perhaps the US most of all – still hope to make the north part of independent Kosovo. USAID is putting out tenders for several million dollars of local projects with language in the documents suggesting that the recipients would be working with the MPT to help establish the new Pristina-controlled north Mitrovica. Some may take the money because words on a page do not make a reality. Others may seek to block any apparent collaboration with Pristina and the Albanians. USAID will either get little for its cynically-taken funding or ignite conflicts. Whatever the case, the international community is lucky that UAM is still there and still on the job. Peacekeeping is often a thankless job but someone has to do it.