Thursday, March 31, 2005


Mar 31st 2005

Tense moments before final-status talks can begin

THE face of Ramush Haradinaj stares down from billboards and posters
across Kosovo's dusty capital. But alongside the images of the former
prime minister, now in custody in The Hague, where he faces charges
before the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal, is a clumsily written message:
"our Prime has a job to do here". The point is to suggest that Mr
Haradinaj, once a rebel commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA),
may still have a role to play in the province, which has been run as a
UN protectorate since 1999.

Mr Haradinaj's supporters, as well as Kosovo's Danish UN proconsul,
Soren Jessen Petersen, insist that, during his 100-day tenure of
office, the ex-guerrilla fighter was shaping up to be quite a good
prime minister. Yet last week, his post was taken by Bajram Kosumi, a
former student leader who was not a guerrilla fighter and was
previously environment minister. For the first time since Kosovo
elected a government of its own in 2001, there are no known former KLA
men in power.

Kosovo's (still provisional) government is assuming ever-increasing
responsibility as the UN-led administration devolves power in the
run-up to talks due to start later this year on the province's final
status. Before such talks can begin, according to the longstanding UN
mantra, Kosovo must show progress towards a number of internationally
imposed standards, in such areas as good democratic governance and
respect for minorities (code for the 100,000 Serbs and other
non-Albanians still clinging on in Kosovo).

The provisional government declared last week that it hoped to meet
most of these standards by June. More hopeful UN representatives agree
that progress is being made. Indeed, it may prove to be just enough--so
long as there is no relapse in security--to permit the final talks on
Kosovo's status to begin this autumn. Among the more vociferous of
Kosovo's estimated 1.8m ethnic Albanians, however, patience may be
running out. A recent poll taken by the UN itself showed that as many
as 75% of Kosovo's Albanians were dissatisfied, one way or another,
with the UN mission's progress.

But might hardliners, including ex-KLA men, pick up their guns and
stones again, as they did a year ago in a sudden, savage outbreak of
violence? It is quite possible. A roadside bomb narrowly failed to kill
Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova, two weeks ago. Occasional hand
grenades and gunfire are being directed against UN soldiers. Who is
behind this violence? A shadowy Albanian rebel group claimed
responsibility for the attack on Mr Rugova, though NATO and UN
intelligence suggests that Albanian extremists on the political fringes
are at work. But the hand of Serbs, keen to disrupt any progress
towards independence for their former fief, cannot be discounted

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