Milica Stojanovic Belgrade BIRN
President Joe Biden nominated Christopher Hill, who had a prominent role in peace negotiations between Serbia and the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s, as the next US ambassador to Belgrade.
Christopher Hill in Chuncheon, South Korea in November 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/YONHAP.
US President Joe Biden has nominated retired diplomat Christopher Hill, a veteran of American involvement in the Balkans in the 1990s war years, as his country’s new ambassador to Belgrade, the White House announced on Friday.
Hill, whose appointment must be confirmed by the US Senate, has previously been an ambassador in Albania, North Macedonia, Poland, South Korea and Iraq.
He was a member of the US negotiating team at during the Dayton peace talks to end the Bosnian war in 1995, and was then posted to Skopje in North Macedonia from 1996 to 1999, where he was involved in trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s government in Belgrade and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.
Belgrade-based newspaper Nasa Borba reported in June 1997 that Hill was initially seen as “a shadowy diplomat, one of those preparing the ground for historic high-level deals, a man whose name is not in the forefront of breaking news”.
“Lately, however, he has stepped through the big door almost overnight and has gone from being an ‘ordinary’ ambassador to being one of the key figures in resolving the Kosovo knot,” Nasa Borba added.
The newspaper said that “Hill was the first Western envoy allowed to enter Kosovo unaccompanied during the ‘offensive of Serbian forces on the Kosovo Liberation Army’”.
In 1998 and 1999, Hill was also the US special envoy for Kosovo, and was involved in key events such as a meeting between senior US diplomat Richard Holbrooke and KLA guerrillas in village of Junik in June 1998.
In December 1998, Hill said that a proposed draft agreement was ready that could “provide a real, solid framework for a peaceful political settlement in Kosovo”, but the negotiation process was being dragged out unnecessarily.
“Now, people can agree to that now, or they can fuss and fume and kill each other, and burn more of each other’s homes, and then agree to it later,” he added.
Two months later, during the last official attempt to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, at meetings at the Chateau de Rambouillet in France, Hill was a member of the international ‘contact group’ for the Balkans, together with Russia’s Boris Majorski and the EU’s Wolfgang Petritsch.
Members of both the Serbian and Kosovo Albanian delegations, Nikola Sainovic and Hydajet Hyseni, both told BBC Serbian that Hill did his best to help them come to an agreement. “Christopher’s team worked constantly on negotiations that were supposed to lead to a solution,” said Sainovic.
But these efforts were not successful and NATO launched a 78-day campaign of air strikes that made Milosevic to withdraw his forces.
After the start of the NATO bombing campaign, several thousand protestors in Skopje burned part of the US embassy while Hill was still inside. Police intervention prevented further damage and he and his staff escaped unharmed.
Twenty years after the Kosovo war, Hill told Deutsche Welle, that he “would like Kosovo to become an independent state because its people wanted it to be independent, but for that independent state to be acceptable to its neighbours and to the whole of Europe”.
“I think the Kosovo issue remains an issue that separates Europe from its goal of becoming whole and at peace,” he said.