Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Kosovo Status Key To Balkan-Europe Integraton-UN Official

1 comment:

KosovaReport said...

Until Kosovo's final status is resolved, the troubled Balkan region will be unable to move closer to the European mainstream, the province's top U.N. official warned Tuesday.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the U.N. mission that administers Kosovo, said that moving toward resolving the province's final status would be in the interest of the entire region.

"I'm absolutely convinced that there'll be no normalization in the western Balkans as long as the issue of Kosovo is not resolved," Jessen-Petersen told The Associated Press in an interview just days ahead of crucial elections.

"A resolution of Kosovo will also allow Belgrade to move forward on clearly what must be their agenda, that is the European perspective," he said.

Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia, but has been a U.N. protectorate for more than five years.

Its final status remains unresolved, with the ethnic Albanian majority pushing for independence and Serbs intent on remaining part of Serbia-Montenegro.

International officials have said talks depend on progress being made in areas such as the rule of law and minority protection and have set mid-2005 as a review date. A positive review would pave the way for talks on Kosovo's future status, officials say.

Kosovo still faces serious problems when it comes to freedom of movement, the return of some 200,000 Serbs and other minorities displaced by the conflict and rule of law, Jessen-Petersen said.

"None of us can afford to keep this place... in limbo for too long," he said, adding officials had not begun discussing what status any talks should lead to.

"The important thing is to get us there and then zoom in on what the options are," he said.

Resolving the province's status would also give its depressed economy a chance to rebound, he said. Unemployment is estimated at 60%, and about half of Kosovo's 2 million residents live in poverty.

"The economy is the biggest threat to the stability here," he added.

Analysts say the unclear future combined with the grave economic situation partly fueled unrest in mid-March, when mobs of ethnic Albanians attacked minority Serbs and their property.

Nineteen people were killed and over 900 were injured in the worst outbreak of violence since the end of the war here. At least 600 houses were burned and some 4,000 people - mainly Serbs - were forced to flee.

The province holds its second general elections Saturday, with voters choosing delegates for a 120-seat assembly. While the assembly holds some power, ultimate authority rests with the U.N. mission here.

Serbs have threatened to boycott the poll, citing lack of security.

Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, has urged the minority to participate, while other Serbian leaders, including conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and the influential Serb Orthodox Church, support the boycott. [ 19-10-04 1507GMT ]