NEWS AND ANALYSIS - COUNTDOWN TO INDEPENDENCE
The United Nations is playing a dangerous game in Kosovo that risks igniting another Balkan war, says a Kosovo Albanian former guerrilla who is now a right-wing party leader.Fatmir Humolli said the general election on Saturday in the U.N.-run province was just another bid by the West to buy time and avoid addressing Kosovo's "future status", meaning independence.His comments reflect widespread frustration five years after a guerrilla war and NATO intervention that the Albanian majority thought would lead to a state of their own carved out of Serbia.The United Nations is "buying four more years ... to do nothing to solve the Kosovo issue, preparing to return Kosovo to Serbian sovereignty", the softly-spoken Humolli, 39, told Reuters ahead of the vote, which he said should be boycotted."In playing this game, the international community has declared political war on Albanians, which could turn into armed conflict at any moment. Just a small incident is needed."In 1999, 11 weeks of NATO bombing forced Serb troops out of Kosovo and 200,000 civilians fled with them, raising hopes among the province's 90-percent Albanian majority that the Kosovo Liberation Army insurgency had as good as secured independence.Humolli's National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo (LKCK) sits at the radical end of post-1999 politics here, but his comments strike a chord with voters angry that five years of U.N. rule has brought neither jobs nor independence.Voter turnout since 1999 has dropped significantly, and in March simmering anger exploded in two days of riots.Mobs of ethnic Albanians overran NATO-guarded Serb enclaves, torching homes and religious sites belonging to Kosovo's beleaguered Serb minority. Much of the violence was also directed at the U.N. administration.Police say 50,000 people took part in the riots, and 19 died in the worst spasm of violence since the 1998-99 guerrilla war.SERBS OPPOSE INDEPENDENCE Serbia rejects an independent Kosovo. Partition remains taboo and its idea of islands of Serb autonomy in the province got a cool response in the West. Belgrade says the United Nations failed to protect the Serb minority of 100,000 and its leaders are now split over whether Serbs should vote at all on Saturday.Until its status is resolved Kosovo remains a U.N. protectorate leaning on aid and patrolled by 18,000 NATO-led peacekeepers (KFOR), described by Humolli as "the occupiers"."People don't see a bright future. Their frustration is reaching its climax and could explode within six months to one year, depending on the circumstances," he said in his Pristina office emblazoned with KLA insignia."Potential protests would not be disorganised or lack direction. They will be led by organised structures who know how to fulfil the wishes of Kosovo Albanians."Humolli said any attempt to keep Kosovo within Serbia would "lead to inevitable war" probably spilling over into Macedonia where Albanian radicals have already taken up arms once."If a new war erupts we can forget about independent Kosovo, Macedonia or Serbia within these borders. There would be many victims and new ethnic states ... including the Albanian state."Bitten once, NATO has deployed an extra 2,000 troops for the election period. The United Nations has also signalled a new push to resolve Kosovo's "final status" by mid-2005, and has promised to hand over more powers to the province's limited institutions.
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