Saturday, June 16, 2007

Kosovo must be independen by Former Foreign Ministers

Friday, June 15, 2007

Kosovo is back in the headlines. President George W. Bush says that it should become independent soon. President Vladimir Putin of Russia opposes independence and prefers time for more talks. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has suggested that we move forward, with a six-month delay.

This has a familiar ring to it. Eight years ago, many of us - then foreign ministers - put in place an international process to decide who should govern Kosovo. We believe that the only viable option is for Kosovo to become independent under strict supervision. That is the proposal that is currently before the UN Security Council and is part of the process that the Council, including Russia, agreed upon and has implemented since 1999.

Kosovo is the last substantial territorial issue remaining from the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. In 2005, as called for by decisions of the Security Council, the UN secretary general appointed a special envoy - former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland - to achieve a political settlement.

After 14 months of negotiations with the leaderships of Serbia and Kosovo, Ahtisaari announced that the irreconcilable positions of the two parties had made consensus unattainable and that no amount of additional talks would overcome the impasse. In lieu of a negotiated agreement by all sides, Ahtisaari proposed that Kosovo receive independence supervised by the international community (primarily the European Union and NATO) and provide strong guarantees for the Serbs who live in Kosovo.

Now is the time to act. Tensions are likely to rise, and they certainly will not cool. Moreover, without a resolution on Kosovo's final status, the future of Serbia and Kosovo will remain uncertain.

Some may say that Russia would prefer this limbo to a situation where Serbia and Kosovo join the European Union and NATO. Serbs and Kosovars should prefer otherwise. They deserve to be in the European Union. And Kosovo cannot develop as things stand. It has been unable to gain access to international financial institutions, fully integrate into the regional economy, or attract the political capital it needs to address its widespread unemployment and poverty.

Russia has complained of not being included in talks. It should participate, but constructively and not just to block it. What may be needed is a formulation that allows Russia to acquiesce without having to break openly with Serbia. Russia can reassure Serbs and emphasize that Kosovo is a unique situation, without precedent for other regions.

The Ahtisaari plan has several advantages. It gives rights to Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs to manage their own affairs within a democratic Kosovo, which will be protected and monitored by the international community. It also requires protection for Orthodox and Serbian cultural and religious sites. Finally, it provides for an international presence that will oversee Kosovo's institutions and monitor the settlement's implementation. It also places Kosovo on the road toward EU integration.

The European Union has agreed to supervise Kosovo during the transition period and deploy a police mission alongside the current NATO peacekeeping force. An indefinite delay caused by continued confusion over Kosovo's status could jeopardize a smooth transition to European oversight.

Kosovo is a unique situation that has required a creative solution. It should not create a precedent for other unresolved conflicts. When the Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 in response to Milosevic's actions in Kosovo, it laid the groundwork for a political process that would ultimately determine Kosovo's future.

We know that all decisions on Kosovo are difficult. Some of us kicked the issue down the road eight years ago. Today, the international community faces the hardest issue of all. But the decision is necessary, and it is the result of eight years of international collaboration.

Serbia must recognize, however, that greater stability in the Balkans promoted by the Ahtisaari plan will allow it to use its location, resources and talent to become a major regional player and a constructive force in European politics. The Serb people deserve a legitimate place in Europe and Serbia could also begin to move towards possible EU membership.

Our goal remains a Europe whole and free, with all the people of the western Balkans participating fully as EU members. The benefits of a concerted EU effort in Kosovo, backed by the UN and NATO, are enormous. As such, Russia and the other UN Security Council members should follow through on the promise that the Council made in 1999 and agree to complete the process of self-governance in Kosovo. This is the best option at this stage of a very difficult history of the whole region. Viable alternatives do not exist.

Madeleine Albright, United States

Lloyd Axworthy, Canada

Jan Eliasson, Sweden

Gareth Evans, Australia

Joschka Fischer, Germany

Bronislaw Geremek, Poland

Niels Helveg Petersen, Denmark

Lydie Polfer, Luxembourg

Jozias van Artsen, Netherlands

Hubert Vedrine, France

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No alternative to Kosovo independence - US diplomat

The U.S., British, German, French and Italian representatives of the Contact Group for Kosovo have voiced support to the Kosovo settlement plan of Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Kosovo Marti Ahtisaari.
Russia did not take part in the Contact Group meeting in Paris.
There is no alternative to the Ahtisaari plan, said U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.
He said the Paris meeting was bound to confirm the European and U.S. support to the Ahtisaari plan. Europe and the United States should also be united in the drafting of a UN Security Council resolution, which will prepare the independence of Kosovo, and convince Russia that this is the only possible way, the diplomat said.
In the words of Burns, Serbia lost Kosovo in 1999, and there is no way back.
``We wholly support the Ahtisaari proposals,'' a representative of the French Foreign Ministry said after the meeting. ``Yet, it is important for us to make this decision at the UN Security Council. It is necessary to ensure international presence in Kosovo, and that must be affirmed by a UN Security Council resolution.''
``We wished to find a solution at the Security Council from the very start, as we think that will meet the interests of the sides,'' the source said.
``We want to maintain close contact with Russia [in that process],'' the official added.
Ahtisaari called for the immediate definition of the Kosovo status at the Italian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission in Rome.
Time is running out, and more intensive efforts should be taken to evaluate all the positions and opinions and present them to the UN Security Council, he said. There is no alternative to the recognized independence of the southern province of Serbia, he said.
At the same time, Ahtisaari said that the position of Kosovo Serbs, who firmly support the irreconcilable Belgrade, complicates the negotiations.
It is possible to reach consent only if Russia agrees not to use the veto right in Kosovo debates at the UN Security Council, the envoy said. The only way out is Russia telling Belgrade that the question is closed and the independence of Kosovo is inevitable, while all the rights of the Serbian minority in Kosovo will be preserved, he said.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema reaffirmed support to the Ahtisaari plan on Monday.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin told a press conference following the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm that the Russian attitude to the Kosovo problem is based on international law and earlier decisions of the UN Security Council. The international law affirms the territorial integrity of states, while no one has repealed resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council, which clearly says that Kosovo is an inseparable part of Serbia, Putin said.
``They are trying to persuade us that it is possible to resolve the problem without concord of the conflicting sides, the Serbs,'' he said. ``This is wrong, as this fails to meet moral and legal norms.''
``We should be patient and cooperate with Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. We should stick to international legal principles and abstain from thrusting our will on other countries and peoples or humiliating them,'' Putin said.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

History in Making - President Bush in Albania - Kosovo to BecomeIndependent

Kosovo's prime minister hails Bush's independence remarks

PRISTINA: Kosovo's prime minister hailed comments by U.S. President George W. Bush Sunday that the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo should gain independence.

A few hours after Bush spoke in neighboring Albania, Agim Ceku appealed to Kosovo's increasingly impatient ethnic Albanians to ensure the province remains peaceful while intensifying efforts for independence.

"President Bush said that Kosovo's people need to be calm," Ceku told reporters. "The only realistic, pragmatic and possible solution is independence for Kosovo and the time for such solution is now."

Bush said the discussions over Kosovo's independence cannot go on indefinitely.

"At some point in time — sooner rather than later — you've got to say 'Enough is enough. Kosovo is independent' and that's the position we've taken," Bush said during a news conference in Tirana.

Kosovo, a province of 2 million of which 90 percent are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the U.N. since mid-1999 when a NATO air war halted a crackdown by Serb forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanian rebels.

"President Bush confirmed and gave full support to Kosovo's independence, and in one way he declared Kosovo independent," said Ceku.

The future of Kosovo has become another thorny issue in relations between U.S. and Russia.

Russia, an ally of Serbia, contends independence would set a dangerous precedent for the world's other breakaway regions. Serbia also opposes statehood for Kosovo, which it sees as the heart of its historic homeland.

Why Albania embraces Bush - The Christian Science Monitor

The largely Muslim country, one of Europe's poorest, sees the visit Sunday by President Bush as a reward for its support of the war on terror.

By Nicole Itano | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

TIRANA, Albania
Dogged by protest for much of his European tour, President Bush received a warmer welcome Sunday in Albania, a former communist country eager to show that it remains one of America's staunchest allies.

Tirana, the capital, was festooned with giant American flags and the president was greeted by Albanians in red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam top hats. Mr. Bush, the first sitting president to visit Albania, traveled down a boulevard renamed in his honor.

"We have come to give our hearts to America and to President Bush to say that we are with them in the war on terrorism and we appreciate what they have done for Kosovo and for Albanians," says Arjanit Iljazi, a nurse who waited for hours to catch a glimpse of Bush in a central square Sunday morning.

Albanians see this weekend's visit, the second-to-last stop on the president's Eastern European tour, as a reward for their country's staunch pro-American sentiment and its support of US antiterrorism efforts. It's sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, frozen the assets of suspected terrorist-financiers, and taken in eight former Guant√°namo Bay detainees whom no other country would take in.

"There is a strong feeling of gratefulness that the Albanian people nourish towards the United States, whether it be their politicians or people," says Ferit Hoxha, secretary general of the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Roots of pro-American sentiment

The roots of Albanian pro-American sentiment, people here say, date to Woodrow Wilson's support of the country's independence after World War I and were cemented during the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, a majority ethnic Albanian province of Serbia. Albanians also see the US as the strongest advocate for the independence of Kosovo, whose status is due to be reviewed by the UN Security Council this month.

Although Albania's contribution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are numerically small – 120 troops in Mosul, and 30 in Afghanistan with an additional 110 to come soon – they have a symbolic importance for the US. The US sees Albania as a model of moderate Islam and religious tolerance. Officially 70 percent Muslim, the country has a strong secular ethos after nearly a quarter of a century of state-enforced atheism under communism.

"I appreciated the fact that Albania is a model of religious tolerance," Bush said in a press conference with the Albanian prime minister. "And I appreciate the fact that Albania is a trusted friend and a strong ally."

Even in mosques, they love US

Pro-American sentiment is widespread here, even among Albania's Muslim faithful. At the historic Ottoman-era Ethem Bey mosque in central Tirana, the worshipers emerging from midday prayers last week said they welcomed President Bush.

Few of the men were bearded and many of the women's heads were uncovered; during prayers they borrowed scarves from a plastic bag near the entrance.

"We want better relations between the two countries," says the mosque's imam, Shaban Saliaj, who is also the mufti – the highest Sunni Muslim leader – of Tirana and looks very much like the professor of geophysics he once was. "Everyone is grateful for what the Americans did in Kosovo."

Mr. Saliaj does not support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the Koran forbids killing, he says – but still supports the US.

On the streets, other Albanians expressed mixed opinions about the military campaigns there. But there is little public debate in Albania about their government's support of the wars, and it's difficult to find anyone in Tirana, politician or ordinary person, who has anything bad to say about America.

"I think the sentiment is pro-American rather than pro-Bush," says Endri Fuga, director of communications for Mjaft! Movement, one of Albania's largest activist organizations. For many Albanians who remember communism, he says, America still represents the ideal of freedom and democracy.

Poor country with high hopes

During the communist era, Albania was perhaps the most isolated and underdeveloped country in Europe. The country is still one of the poorest on the continent, but since the end of communism in 1992 it has allied itself closely with America and Western Europe.

The country hopes to gain NATO membership in 2008 and, eventually, to win a place in the European Union.

Bush reiterated the United States' support of Albania's NATO bid and emphasized that he is committed to Kosovo gaining its independence.

Seremb Gjergjaj, who drove more than six hours from Kosovo with friends in hopes of catching a glimpse of the president, says he came to thank Bush for America's support and that Kosovars would be patient.

"We have a saying in Kosovo that good things come slow."

Bush urges independence for Kosovo

By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer 6 minutes ago
TIRANA, Albania - President Bush, getting a hero's welcome as the first American president to visit this Balkan nation, said Sunday that there cannot be endless dialogue about achieving independence for neighboring Kosovo.

"Sooner rather than later you've got to say `Enough's enough. Kosovo's independent,'" Bush said during a news conference with the prime minister of this tiny, impoverished country.

Bush's press for statehood was aimed at Russia and others that object to Kosovo's independence. Standing alongside Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Bush said any extension of talks on Kosovo must have "certain independence" as the goal.

In response to Albania's push for NATO membership, Bush said additional political and military reforms were needed before that could be considered — something the country's leaders said they understood.

"We are determined to take any decision, pass any law and undertake any reform to make Albania appropriate to receive the invitation" to join the western military alliance, Berisha said.

When Bush arrived to begin his brief visit, the hills overlooking the capital boomed as military cannons fired a 21-gun salute, and thousands gathered in a downtown square on a brilliantly sunny day to see him and first lady Laura Bush.

Huge banners proclaimed "Proud to be Partners" and billboards said "President Bush in Albania Making History." Red-white-and-blue paper top hats with stars on top were passed out to well-wishers.

"It is a bright day today when in our land there came the greatest and most distinguished friend we have had in all our times, the president of the U.S.A., leader of the free world," Berisha said.

Albania also issued three postage stamps with Bush's picture and the Statue of Liberty, and renamed a street in front of parliament in his honor.

Bush said he was proud to be the first sitting American president to visit. "I love to come to countries that are working hard to establish institutions necessary for democracies to survive," he said.

The issue of independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo is another issue on which the U.S. and Russia disagree.

Russia, an ally of Serbia, contends independence for Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent for the world's other breakaway regions. Serbia also opposes statehood for Kosovo, which it sees as the heart of its historic homeland.

The U.S. and key European countries that support Kosovo independence are trying to narrow differences with Russia over the future of Kosovo, which has been administered by the U.N. since a 1999 war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. The U.N. Security Council is divided over the issue.

Last month, the U.S. and European nations introduced a revised U.N. resolution supporting independence for Kosovo under international supervision, but it was immediately rejected by Russia — which hinted it would veto the measure.

The new draft addressed Russia's concern that Kosovo's multiethnic character is preserved, but left out Russia's main proposal for new negotiations between the province's majority ethnic Albanians, who demand independence, and its minority Serbs, who want to remain part of Serbia.

"I happen to believe it's important to push the process along," Bush said. "The time is now. ... Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice will be moving hard to see if we can't reach an agreement. If not, we're going to have to move. Independence is the goal."

Russia also opposes NATO's spread into eastern Europe, and is concerned about the prospect that its neighbors Ukraine and Georgia may be brought into the western military alliance.

Berisha said 93 percent of his country's people support NATO membership for Albania.

Bush said he commended Berisha on Albania's progress on reforming its defense forces and meeting performance-based standards required for membership. "I look forward to welcoming you sometime into NATO," he said.

But he said additional political and military reforms were needed, along with more progress in fighting organized crime and corruption. Berisha said he understood and is committed to making the changes.

"I said, 'We're committed to help you,'" Bush said.

In saluting Albania's democracy, Bush praised it as a country that has "cast off the shackles of a very oppressive society and is now showing the world what's possible."

During the visit, Bush met with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and greeted troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Albania recently decided to triple its deployment in Afghanistan to 140 troops. It also has about 120 troops in Iraq — a presence that Moisiu says will not end as long as Americans are engaged there.

Bush also had lunch with the prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia and Croatia, which hope to join NATO next year.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

For One Visit, Bush Will Feel Pro-U.S. Glow - The New York Times

TIRANA, Albania, June 8 — The highlight of President Bush’s European tour may well be his visit on Sunday to this tiny country, one of the few places left where he can bask in unabashed pro-American sentiment without a protester in sight.

Americans here are greeted with a refreshing adoration that feels as though it comes from another time.

“Albania is for sure the most pro-American country in Europe, maybe even in the world,” said Edi Rama, Tirana’s mayor and leader of the opposition Socialists. “Nowhere else can you find such respect and hospitality for the president of the United States. Even in Michigan, he wouldn’t be as welcome.”

Thousands of young Albanians have been named Bill or Hillary thanks to the Clinton administration’s role in rescuing ethnic Albanians from the Kosovo war. After the visit on Sunday, some people expect to see a rash of babies named George.

So eager is the country to accommodate Mr. Bush that Parliament unanimously approved a bill last month allowing “American forces to engage in any kind of operation, including the use of force, in order to provide security for the president.” One newspaper, reporting on the effusive mood, published a headline that read, “Please Occupy Us!”

There are, to be sure, signs that the rest of Europe is tilting a bit more in America’s direction, narrowing the gap between “old” and “new” Europe that opened with disagreements over the Iraq war.

France’s new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to forget the acrimony that marked his predecessor’s relations with the United States, even appointing a pro-American foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who supported the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

Shortly after taking office, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany did “not have as many values in common with Russia as it does with America.” She has since proposed a new trans-Atlantic economic partnership that would get rid of many non-tariff barriers to trade.

And Gordon Brown, who will succeed Tony Blair as Britain’s prime minister this month, has vacationed several times on Cape Cod and befriended a succession of Treasury officials. He is expected to maintain what Britons call the country’s “special relationship” with the United States, ahead of other American allies.

So “old Europe” has warmed toward the United States, although there has been no fundamental shift toward more American-friendly policies. But even in “new Europe,” as the post-Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe have been called, Albania is special.

Much of Eastern Europe has grown more critical of Mr. Bush, worried that the antimissile defense shield he is pushing will antagonize Russia and lead to another cold war. Many Eastern Europeans, Czechs and Poles among them, are also angry that the United States has maintained cumbersome visa requirements even though their countries are now members of the European Union.

But here in Albania, which has not wavered in its unblinking support for American policies since the end of the cold war, Mr. Bush can do no wrong. While much of the world berates Mr. Bush for warmongering, unilateralism, trampling civil liberties and even turning a blind eye to torture, Albania still loves him without restraint.

Mr. Bush will be the first sitting American president to visit the country, and his arrival could not come on a more auspicious day: the eighth anniversary of the start of Serbian troop withdrawals from Kosovo and ratification by the United Nations Security Council of the American-brokered peace accord that ended the fighting. Mr. Bush is pushing the Security Council to approve a plan that would lead to qualified Kosovo independence.

Albanians are pouring into the capital from across the region. Hotel rooms are as scarce as anti-American feelings.

Albanians’ support for the war in Iraq is nearly unanimous, and any perceived failings of American foreign policy are studiously ignored. A two-day effort to find anyone of prominence who might offer some criticism of the United States turned up just one name, and that person was out of the country.

Every school child in Albania can tell you that President Woodrow Wilson saved Albania from being split up among its neighbors after World War I, and nearly every adult repeats the story when asked why Albanians are so infatuated with the United States.

James A. Baker III was mobbed when he visited the country as secretary of state in 1991. There was even a move to hold a referendum declaring the country America’s 51st state around that time.

“The excitement among Albanians over this visit is immeasurable, beyond words,” said Albania’s new foreign minister, Lulzim Basha, during an interview in his office, decorated with an elegant portrait of Faik Konica, who became the first Albanian ambassador to the United States in 1926. “We truly believe that this is a historic moment that people will look back on decades later and talk about what it meant for the country.”

Mr. Bush’s visit is a reward for Albania’s unflinching performance as an unquestioning ally. The country was among the first American allies to support Washington’s refusal to submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It was one of the first countries to send troops to Afghanistan and one of the first to join the forces in Iraq. It has soldiers in both places.

“They will continue to be deployed as long as the Americans are there,” Albania’s president, Alfred Moisiu, said proudly in an interview.

Most recently, the country has quietly taken several former detainees from the base at Guant√°namo Bay, Cuba, off the Bush administration’s hands when sending them to their home countries was out of the question. There are eight so far, and Mr. Moisiu said he is open to accepting more.

Mr. Rama, Tirana’s mayor, says he is offended when Albania’s pro-Americanism is cast as an expression of “provincial submission.”

“It’s not about being blind,” he said, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Great Seal of the United States. “The U.S. is something that is really crucial for the destiny of the world.”

The pro-American feeling has strayed into government-commercial relations. The Albanian government has hired former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge as a consultant on a range of issues, including the implementation of a national identity card.

Many people questioned the procedures under which a joint venture led by Bechtel won Albania’s largest public spending project ever, a contract to build a highway linking Albania and Kosovo. President Moisiu said state prosecutors were now looking at the deal.

In preparation for Mr. Bush’s six-hour visit, Tirana has been draped in American flags and banners that proclaim, “Proud to be Partners.” A portrait of Mr. Bush hangs on the “Pyramid,” a cultural center in the middle of town that was built as a monument to Albania’s Communist strongman, Enver Hoxha. State television is repeatedly playing a slickly produced spot in which Prime Minister Sali Berisha welcomes Mr. Bush in English.

What Mr. Bush will get in return from the visit is the sight of cheering crowds in a predominantly Muslim nation. When asked by an Albanian reporter before leaving Washington what came to mind when he thought of Albania, Mr. Bush replied, “Muslim people who can live at peace.”

Albania is about 70 percent Muslim, with large Orthodox and Catholic populations. To underscore the country’s history of tolerance, President Moisiu will present Mr. Bush with the reproduction of an 18th-century Orthodox icon depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus flanked by two mosques.

“President Bush is safer in Albania than in America,” said Ermin Gjinishti, a Muslim leader in Albania.

Tim Golden contributed reporting from Tirana, and Alan Cowell from London.

Bush calls for action over Kosovo

US President George W Bush has said the time has come to bring the issue of Kosovo's independence "to its head".
He was speaking after talks with the Italian Prime Minister Romani Prodi, during a visit to Rome.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Opponents of new Kosovo must be stopped - Joseph Biden

By Joseph Biden
Published: January 2 2007 19:12 | Last updated: January 2 2007 19:12
Years of hand-wringing and chest-thumping over the future status of Kosovo may finally be drawing to a close. In the next few months, adroit diplomacy to secure Kosovo’s independence could yield a victory for Muslim democracy, a better future for south-east Europe and validation for the judicious use of American power.

But along with the potential for triumph in Kosovo, there is a growing risk that Serbia and Russia will conspire to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Extremists in Belgrade and Moscow are – for very different reasons – hoping to use Russia’s United Nations Security Council veto to quash Kosovo’s bid for independence. If they succeed, the Balkans will emerge as another source of bad news in a world already crowded with crises.

During the seven years since Nato ended Slobodan Milosevic’s reign of terror in Kosovo, a UN-backed administration has largely succeeded in bringing stability to the province. However, Kosovo’s people are justifiably tired of a status quo marked by uncertainty and economic privation. These two intertwined problems will continue so long as the debate over the province’s future remains unresolved. Its ambiguous status is also leading to stagnation in Serbia.

Nationalist politicians in Belgrade have embraced the fight against Kosovo’s independence to divert public attention from their own failures and Serbia’s stalled bid for European Union membership. The actions of Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia’s prime minister, have been particularly disappointing. In addition to refusing international requests to call for the arrest of war crimes fugitives Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, Mr Kostunica has rejected every attempt at compromise on Kosovo. Serbia’s moral authority on the issue hit a new low in October when the 1.5m ethnic Albanian residents of the province were denied the right to vote in a deeply flawed constitutional referendum that declared Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.

To their great credit, the people of Serbia have proved more realistic about Kosovo than their elected leaders. Opinion polls show that many Serbs foresee that the province will gain independence. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, meanwhile, overwhelmingly expect to sever ties with Serbia. With citizens on both sides of the issue ready to finish the debate and move on to more constructive challenges, leaders who block a solution will do so at their peril.

Historically, trouble in the Balkans is almost always the result of false expectations. On the whole, the citizens of south-east Europe are mentally prepared for an independent Kosovo.

If Belgrade postpones a settlement it will reopen the issue for many Serbs previously resigned to Kosovo’s independence and further inflame frustrations among the region’s ethnic Albanians. The result could be a return of the mob violence that shook Kosovo in March 2004.

A Russian effort to delay a deal on Kosovo would be in keeping with the Kremlin’s habit of fostering weak, subservient governments in formerly communist states. Moscow has apparently reached the conclusion that impoverished, unstable regimes are easier targets for manipulation than prosperous, independent countries. It has made extensive, public use of oil and gas diplomacy to undermine the budding democracies of eastern Europe. Less attention has focused on the Kremlin’s quiet efforts to exacerbate territorial conflicts in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. Serbia could become the latest victim of this strategy.

Kosovo is not ready for full sovereignty. Even after independence, Nato and the international community will need to provide security guarantees for Kosovo’s minorities and strengthen its economy and institutions. But it is time to grant the province independence. The longer the status debate continues, the further Kosovo and Serbia will fall behind other rapidly progressing former Yugoslav republics such as Croatia and Slovenia.

Success in Kosovo, if realised, will have implications far beyond the Balkans. A responsible Russian approach to the issue could demonstrate the Kremlin’s commitment to global order at a time when its credibility is in tatters. The people of Kosovo – already the most pro-American in the Islamic world – will provide a much-needed example of a successful US-Muslim partnership. Stability in south-east Europe would be a welcome bit of good news and offer hope in a season of tremendous foreign policy challenges.

The writer is the incoming Democratic chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2000

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Independence for Kosovo by Agim Ceku - The Wall Street Journal

Pristina -- Just as it seemed that the Balkans were finally turning the corner, we are instead entering another period of stagnation, delay and uncertainty. A United Nations decision on Kosovo's status, originally expected before the end of this year, has been postponed. The expectations in Kosovo are high. Kosovo is hungry for independence, Kosovo is ready for independence, and now is not the time to stop the clock.

We need to keep the process of statehood on track. Kosovo needs clarity to complete reforms and to attract vital international investments, but also so that our people -- and especially our Serb minority -- can escape the debilitating worries and uncertainty and start to build a future. Their home and future are in Kosovo.

There are two things we must do in Kosovo to succeed as a progressive and a modern independent state. First, we should further improve our institutions to achieve more transparency and a functioning legal system. Second, we need a broad political commitment to development and modernization.

Independence is only the first step and, in itself, is insufficient to provide for Kosovo's future. Kosovo needs a clear perspective for European Union membership. We can only succeed within this framework. This above all means prioritizing economic revitalization in the post-independence period. Nothing short of an economic boom will get us up to speed; the EU train will not wait for Kosovo, or the rest of the region for that matter. The biggest problem in the Western Balkans is economic malaise.

It is the Kosovars, not Belgrade, who have a real interest and stake in seeing Kosovo succeed. Moderate Serbs have long lost interest in Kosovo. Only those desperate for cheap, nationalist rhetorical points claim to care about it. Belgrade offers no vision, no economic or European agenda to the people of Kosovo. Increasing numbers of Serbs, especially those living in Kosovo, are beginning to see beyond this bankrupt world view.

I have no doubt that seeing Kosovo become independent will be a difficult new reality for Serbia. But it is the only way. Belgrade is not interested in investing in the development of Kosovo, and Kosovo is not interested in a political union with Serbia. But we are interested in developing a productive bilateral partnership with Serbia, just as we're doing with our other neighbors.

Social and economic progress in the region will be the big losers if we don't make the bold step forward to independence. The entire Western Balkan region needs a kick start in order to catch the EU train and catch up with the awesome economic growth of our EU-bound neighbors Romania and Bulgaria. This is the only way forward and the only way into the EU. Globalization is a reality which won't pause so we can get ready. The pace is being set in Asia, but transition will have to happen here in the Western Balkans if we wish to compete.

Most of us in the Balkans share a common vision about our future -- we want to get into the EU as fast as possible. The way to do it is through reforms. This wasn't an easy process for the Baltic countries. It wasn't easy for Eastern and Central Europe. And it won't be easy for the Balkan states either. The region needs to find its comparative advantage in Europe and in the global market. It will do so as soon as we settle the final status of Kosovo.

Can Kosovo survive? Sure. If we reform, we'll do very well. My government has adopted a proactive "3E" plan for Kosovo based on energy, economy and education. With large deposits of coal, Kosovo can in a few years become a net electricity exporter. With the right technology we can even do this with an environmental face.

The economy is picking up. There is no currency risk in Kosovo now that we've adopted the euro. We have privatized around 90% of the asset value of all state-owned enterprises. The financial sector has already been privatized, and we are now attracting new investments into the telecom and energy sectors. Much remains to be done, including cleaning up corruption in the courts, but we're on the right track.

We have a young population and a positive birth rate. Given the shortages in the EU labor market due to negative demographic trends, Kosovo can help fill the void. To do so, we need to retrain our work force. Hence we're now investing in education.

The EU is facing a crisis, and it needs time to consolidate and reset its internal political balances. However, this is no reason to lose sight of its strategic goal: a Europe whole and free. Right now this is still not the reality, at least not in the Western Balkans.


Mr. Ceku is the prime minister of Kosovo.


WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 -- The Voice of America issued the following story:

By Barry Wood

As the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo heads for resolution of its uncertain status after seven years as a United Nations protectorate, a U.N. study says the territory should have a multi-ethnic defense force.

Retired British Brigadier General Tony Welch says that, assuming Kosovo becomes independent, it will need a small defense force. General Welch, with long experience in peacekeeping in the Balkans, says it would be a mistake to transform the 5,000 - strong national guard, a former guerrilla force called the Kosovo Protection Corps, into a national army. He says the size of a defense force should be limited.

"We are suggesting no more than 2,500 people in all [to be the national defense force], very small, to be recruited from across the population of Kosovo, with no bars ethnically to anyone, no bars to current members of the Kosovo Protection Corps applying for posts within the defense force, but no right to posts within the defense force," said General Welch.

General Welch says the Kosovo defense force should be trained and equipped by NATO, which is currently responsible for security in Kosovo. Upon creation of a national army, General Welch says, the almost exclusively ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Protection Corps should be disbanded.

The full report on Kosovo's security arrangements will be released in December. Its contents were previewed at a forum hosted by Washington's U.S. Institute of Peace.

Kosovo's former administrator, Soren Jessen-Petersen, a fellow at the institute, says stability in Kosovo and the wider Balkan region is contingent on an early determination of Kosovo's status.

The United Nations envoy in charge of status negotiations is expected to present his report, likely calling for conditional independence, in late January. Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, an outcome rejected by Serbia.

Jessen-Petersen says economic recovery in the province requires clarity on status.

"There are many reasons why we need status [determination]," said Soren Jessen-Petersen. "We need it without any further delay. But, certainly when you look at what are the biggest security concerns - economy and unemployment - they require status. They require clarity. Let us get it done sooner rather than later."

Jessen-Petersen says delay is the greatest threat to regional security. Other participants said Kosovo will be secure only when minority Serbs are secure. A repeat of the anti-Serb riots of 2004, they said, would be disastrous.

Jailed war crimes suspect to top his party's ballot list in Serbia's election

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - Vojislav Seselj, a war crimes suspect charged with being part of a plot to murder, torture and expel non-Serbs during the 1990s Balkans wars, will top his party's ballot list in Serbia's upcoming general elections, his aide said Monday.

Seselj is currently in jail in the Netherlands awaiting the start of his trial by the Hague-based U.N. war crimes tribunal. He is first on the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party's list of candidates in the Jan. 21 parliamentary vote, the party's campaign chief Dragan Todorovic told the state Tanjug news agency.

Seselj's placement at the top of the ticket practically guarantees him a seat in Serbia's next parliament after the elections. His party's ballot list will be called "the Serbian Radical Party -Vojislav Seselj," Todorovic said.

Seselj ruled Serbia with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during the Balkan wars. His extremist party holds 80 seats in Serbia's 250-seat assembly and will be the chief challenger to several pro-democratic groups.

Seselj's party, which he heads from jail in the Netherlands, said he started a hunger strike last week demanding the tribunal grant him free choice of legal advisers, unrestricted spousal visits and an unconditional right to conduct his own defense.

He has lost 11 kilograms (24 pounds) since starting the hunger strike, the Radical Party said in a statement Monday, adding that Seselj "was aware of the (health) risks ... but will not give up" his demands and will continue refusing to be examined by physicians at the detention facility.

Seselj has pleaded innocent to nine charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly being part of a criminal plot to murder, torture and illegally imprison non-Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

His trial is scheduled to start Nov. 27. He voluntarily turned himself in to The Hague tribunal in 2003.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No More Delays for Kosovo - The New York Times

For the past seven years, the tiny Balkan region of Kosovo has been in limbo. Administered by the United Nations, it is not an independent state. But it is no longer a province of Serbia. That ended after Serbia’s rulers tried to kill or drive out Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians — and NATO went to war to save them.

Limbos are not stable. And the U.N. mediator in talks on the region, Martti Ahtisaari, was expected to announce by the end of this year that it was time to start Kosovo on the path to closely monitored independence. Instead, he put off the decision until after Serbia’s parliamentary elections — scheduled for January — for fear of bolstering Serbian ultranationalists. This postponement, only the most recent of many, should be the last.

After the 1999 war there has never been a realistic possibility of rejoining Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo was supposed to earn independence by proving its willingness to govern responsibly and to protect its ethnic Serb minority. A lot more needs to be done on both those fronts.

But the United Nations has limited patience to keep administering Kosovo, and without the stability of statehood there will be no foreign investment and the beleaguered economy will not improve. Lack of economic prospects is feeding Albanian nationalism, and until Kosovo’s status is settled, anger will remain close to the surface.

Even as it moves Kosovo toward statehood, the U.N. should keep a substantial military and advisory presence there, both to ensure the rights of the Serb minority and to encourage democratic development.

Belgrade will always object to Kosovo’s independence. The best chance of moderating its reaction is the promise of eventual membership in the European Union and a clear warning that Europe will be watching how it treats its new neighbor. The Kosovars should be clear that donors and everyone else will be watching just as closely to see how they treat their own Kosovar Serbs.

Kosovo must not 'drag down' EU aspirant Serbia: Swedish FM

The question of Kosovo's future status must not be allowed to harm Serbia in its bid to join the European Union, visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Thursday."The issue of Kosovo should not be allowed to drag Serbia down, Serbia should move forward to join the rest of the European countries," Bildt said after talks with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.Bildt said the solution for the future status of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo should be "sustainable" and "in the interest of the entire region".Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of its population, are calling for independence but Belgrade has only offered the southern province wide-ranging autonomy.Draskovic himself warned that the possible independence of Kosovo could destabilise Serbia as well as the whole Balkan region, and insisted that Belgrade and Pristina's rival stances were not irreconcilable."It is necessary to bridge Serbia's legitimate request not to breach its territorial integrity and fulfill justified and legitimate demands by (Kosovo) Albanians," Draskovic told reporters."But I will never consider legitimate a demand to create another Albanian state in the Balkans," said Draskovic.Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign ended a crackdown by Belgrade forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. It is still technically a part of Serbia.The UN's top Kosovo mediator, Martti Ahtisaari, said last week he would wait to reveal his plans for the future of the province until after Serbian general elections on January 21, delaying the previous end-of-year deadline.