Wednesday, November 30, 2005

15 Companies Put Up for Sale in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Kosovo's sunflower oil producer, a brick maker, a pipe factory and two hotels were among 15 state firms put up for sale Wednesday in hopes of boosting the economy in the disputed province.

The Kosovo Trust Agency launched the 11th round of privatization in an effort to sell the companies, which were once owned by their workers and managers under a system set up during communist-era Yugoslavia.

The privatization agency, which has advertised the companies on its Web site, is hoping 16 new firms will be created when the sales are completed.

Privatization is among the most sensitive issues in Kosovo, which was placed under U.N. administration in 1999 following NATO air strikes that ended a Serb crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

The process of privatization in Kosovo is complex in part because it is unclear whether Kosovo will become independent or remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the successor state of Yugoslavia. Serbia's authorities have fiercely opposed the privatizations.

The Kosovo Trust Agency, the U.N. entity responsible for privatizing the enterprises and putting them on solid legal footing, wants private entrepreneurs to assume the risk of modernizing the industries.

The companies are considered inefficient and dilapidated after years of neglect.


On the Net:

Kosovo Trust Agency:

UN court acquits two ex-Kosovo rebels

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Hague war crimes tribunal acquitted two former rebel Kosovo Albanians of war crimes on Wednesday, one of them -- Fatmir Limaj -- a key figure in the Kosovo Liberation Army, but jailed a third for 13 years.

The acquittals in the tribunal's first judgment on war crimes in Kosovo during the 1998-99 fighting between Serbian forces and the rebel KLA, were greeted with celebrations on the streets of Pristina, the provincial capital.

Limaj, 34, was a senior figure in the KLA and a key ally of ex-KLA commander Hashim Thaci in his Democratic Party of Kosovo, now the main opposition party in the province.

"This is great news," senior government minister Ardian Gjini said of Limaj's release. "Most importantly the court proved that the KLA did not commit systematic crimes against civilians as Serbian forces did," he told Reuters.

Acquitted alongside Limaj was Isak Musliu, also a former member of the now disbanded KLA. The court found Haradin Bala guilty of murder, torture and cruel treatment and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.

The arrest of the three former rebels in early 2003 sparked protests among Kosovo's majority Albanians, who see them as freedom fighters against Serb rule. Violence was feared in Kosovo in the event of guilty verdicts.

Presiding judge Kevin Parker said the prosecution was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Limaj had any role in a prison camp in Lapusnik or that he was criminally responsible for the offences with which he was charged.

There was also little evidence that Musliu, 35, a former KLA guard, had any kind of involvement in the camp, Parker said.

But Parker said the prosecution had proved that Bala, 48, participated in the murder of nine prisoners outside the camp in the Berisa mountains.

He was also found guilty of mistreating three prisoners and aiding in the mistreatment and torture of another prisoner.

(Additional reporting by Shaban Buza in Pristina)

PDSRSG and COMKFOR joint statement following the judgement delivered by ICTY in the Fatmir Limaj et al. case

PRISTINA – Principal Deputy SRSG Larry Rossin and COMKFOR Lieutenant-General Giuseppe Valotto this afternoon issued the following statement after learning of the judgement by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Fatmir Limaj et al. case:

“UNMIK and KFOR have taken note of the judgement delivered today by the ICTY in the Fatmir Limaj et al. case. The ICTY is an independent judicial body and UNMIK and KFOR cannot comment on judicial decisions.”

A judgement had been expected in the normal course of court proceedings and as such it is appropriate that there should be public interest in the Tribunal’s decision. PDSRSG Rossin and Lt.-Gen. Valotto expressed their confidence that the people of Kosovo would display their characteristic dignity in response to this development.

U.N. war crimes tribunal acquits chief Kosovo Albanian suspect

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) - The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Wednesday acquitted the chief suspect in the trial of three Kosovo Albanian separatists, Fatmir Limaj, of allegations of torturing and murdering Serbian and Albanian civilians at a prison camp during the 1998-1999 war.

A second defendant, Isak Musliu, was also acquitted, while the third, Haradin Bala, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for executing nine prisoners in the woods in July 1999.

An audience of several dozen friends, family and supporters applauded and roared in approval as Limaj's acquittel was announced.

In Kosovo, where Limaj is considered a hero by some, celebratory gunfire echoed through the Serbian provionce's capital Pristina and people honked their car horns.

It was the first trial of members of the NATO-backed Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought for independence from the Serbian state led by President Slobodan Milosevic.

The chief suspect Limaj, 34, a former KLA commander, was sccused of running the Lapusnik prison camp, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Kosovo's capital, Pristina.

"The chamber finds it has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused Fatmir Limaj had any role in the prison camp or in the execution in the Berishe mountains or that he has criminal responsibility for any offenses for which he is charged," Presiding Judge Kevin parker said.

Parker said the prosecution had proven the existence of the camp, but had failed to link Limaj to beatings, inhumane treatment, torture and murder.

Fatmir Limaj, Former Commander of the KLA Freed of All Charges from the Hague Tribunal...developing

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Rumsfeld to Host Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial

Department of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will host defense ministers from thirteen southeast European nations in connection with the 10th meeting of the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) process. The conference, to be held in Washington, D.C., Dec 5-6, 2005, is an annual forum for ministers to discuss a wide range of mutual regional security issues.

The SEDM ministerial will provide the ministers an opportunity to discuss topics including counterproliferation; border security; peacekeeping; regional defense industry exchange and technology sharing; 2006 regional exercises; and the deployment of the Southeastern Europe Brigade in support of peace operations as part of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2006. In addition, Kosovo Force (KFOR) reorganization and preparations to ensure security during status talks will also be addressed.

The conference will mark the accession of Ukraine as a full member of SEDM, bringing membership to eleven countries: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. Three other nations will be invited: Moldova as an observer, and Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina as guests.

The SEDM process began in 1996 as a regional initiative to serve as a bridge to Euro-Atlantic institutions, particularly NATO. Its stated objectives are to:

- Promote peace and stability in the region
- Enhance cooperation and regional security
- Support NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) programs.

Media are invited to cover the following events on Dec. 6:

- Plenary session opening comments at 8:30 a.m.
- Minsters group photo at 12:30 p.m.
- Press conference at 3 p.m.

EU Visas and the Western Balkans

Brussels, 29 November 2005: EU visa policy towards the Western Balkans contributes to the ghettoisation of the region and undermines Balkan efforts for reform and stability.

EU Visas and the Western Balkans,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the current visa regime with regard to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro including Kosovo. It highlights the policy’s sclerotic deficiencies that jeopardise the objective of enhanced European integration and damage the countries’ European outlook and hopes of eventual EU candidate status.

“This is not about emigration, permanent residence or threats to EU jobs. This is about liberalising the limited-term visa regime, primarily for students, business people and tourists, and making the application process simpler, faster and less painful for all”, says Nicholas Whyte, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “The current system is breeding resentment by making the majority pay a high price for a criminal minority”.

At the June 2003 Thessaloniki Summit, the EU assured the peoples of the Western Balkans region that Brussels would not regard the map of the Union as complete until those countries had joined. The EU committed itself to a more liberal visa regime, with the warning however that any progress toward this end depended upon the implementation of major reforms in areas of law, crime, administration and border controls.

But the very real efforts of Western Balkan governments to reform are not paying off as expected, and their populations seem to be increasingly frustrated by the fact they have seen few tangible rewards for their labours. The EU has not moved on implementing the commitments it took in Thessaloniki.

The EU and its member states should refocus on how to help this region make its way towards further integration. In particular the European Commission should put negotiating mandates to the Council of Ministers on visa liberalisation and facilitation for the countries of the region and should set out a road map for each country so that they have a clear picture of the steps they need to take to get an improved visa regime from the EU. The EU Member states should begin negotiations with the relevant countries on a selective Schengen visa liberalisation regime for certain segments of the population and on facilitating visa applications for all their citizens.

The EU must not forget that the citizens of the former Yugoslavia enjoyed visa-free contact with Western Europe before the wars of the 1990s. It must also remember that the new post-Milosevic generation of young Balkan Europeans has sadly never set foot inside the Union.

“The new Balkans generation, responsible for taking the region out of narrow-minded nationalism and conflict towards a European future, is not being given the necessary tools”, says Neil Campbell, a Research Analyst at Crisis Group. “A visa policy that inevitably fosters resentment towards the EU is certainly no way to make progress – neither in the region, nor in Europe overall”.

EU divided over future status of Kosovo

29.11.2005 - 18:02 CET | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU member states are signalling disagreement on the final status of Kosovo, just as UN-led talks on the future of the territory get under way.

Diplomats indicate that several states - including the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Greece and Italy - are publicly or privately promoting their own ideas, which in some cases go beyond the EU's common position.

EU member states in June agreed that the exact future status of Kosovo should be decided in UN-led negotiations between Serbs and Kosovan Albanians, while setting out some clear EU principles that any outcome must meet.

The EU conditions include the protection of the Serb minority, no return to the pre-March 1999 status (when Kosovo was directly governed from Belgrade), and, notably, no partitioning of the territory.

However, just after UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari started his initial talks with Belgrade and Pristina last week, Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek suggested that partitioning Kosovo could be the best solution.

"A solution could be dividing the territory on ethnic lines. The northern part of the region would belong to Serbia, and the majority of the southern part could be given the status of an independent nation", the Czech politician said, according to press reports.

Cacophony of opinions
The Czech move - clearly in breach of EU principles - ran contrary to a previous initiative by Slovene president Janez Drnovsek, who presented earlier this month a plan promoting full independence for an unpartitioned Kosovo.

Mr Drnovsek's plan caused a row in Slovenia itself, with the country's foreign ministry publicly declaring that the president's action did "not reflect" the Slovenian government's position.

An EU diplomat said the Czech and Slovene moves were "worrying", as the EU seemed "incapable of sticking to a common position" over the issue.

Another diplomat described the Czech plea for a partition as "very dangerous".

On top of this, the president of EU candidate state Romania, Traian Basescu, last week while visiting Paris presented a proposal pleading for a type of Kosovan autonomy that falls short of independence from Serbia, which was well received in Belgrade but not in Pristina.

An EU source described the different statements coming out of European capitals as a "cacaphony of opinions."

Wariness about independence
Although most other member states have so far cautiously stuck to the EU´s guiding principles, in public at least, they have privately voiced their own views over the issue.

Italy, Spain and Greece in particular are said to be worried about what will happen if the territory is given fully-fledged independence, having been under the administration of the United Nations since the 1999 war.

Sources said Spain is "nervous" about an independent Kosovo setting a precedent for its own autonomous Basque region, something a Spanish spokesman did not want to comment on.

Both Italy and Greece are reportedly wary about endangering their close political and economic ties with Serbia, with Rome particularly fearful of a future "failed" state in Kosovo which could produce large numbers of refugees.

A Greek spokesman did not confirm Athens' particular worry about Kosovo's independence, but did highlight that Athens as a "powerful" player in the region would play an active "mediating role" between Belgrade and Pristina.

The EU has to pay the bill
The direct influence of the EU on the final status talks is likely to be limited, though not irrelevant.

UN envoy Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, will lead the talks, probably assisted by diplomats of the Kosovo Contact Group, which is viewed by diplomats as being very influential.

A representative from the EU has a seat in this group, but its six-nation core consists of the US and Russia as well as the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

"EU members who do not have a seat in the contact group are envious about those who do", one insider said.

But an EU diplomat argued that in the end, the view of the EU as a whole can hardly be ignored, as "we will have to pay the bill", referring to a probable Brussels role in administration and military stabilisation of the territory.

Mr Ahtisaari's efforts to broker a deal will initially be limited to shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina, with direct talks between Serbs and Kosovan Albanians not expected to start before February.

Diplomats estimate that the negotiations will last at least six months, possibly more than a year.

Politicians representing the Kosovan Albanian majority have pleaded for full independence for Kosovo, but Serbia is opposed to granting Kosovo sovereign nation status.

Clarity needed for Kosovo's future

By Marc Grossman
Originally published November 28, 2005

WASHINGTON // Kosovo is the biggest remaining Balkan challenge.

For the past three years, America and its allies have hoped that an undefined future status for Kosovo would be the incentive needed to encourage best practices and best behavior from Kosovo Albanians and Serbs.

This policy - right for its time - has run its course. The incentives need to change because only a clear path to earned independence for Kosovo will produce stability in the Balkans. There will be no further progress on the key issues in Kosovo until there is clarity about Kosovo's future.

The U.N. Security Council launched the effort to define Kosovo's final status Oct. 24. Even though Washington does not support a specific outcome at this point, the Bush administration, building on the work of its predecessors and with solid congressional support, has been both active and effective in pressing for a new way forward. Some of the pieces that can make this new way of thinking about the Balkans a reality are in place.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has chosen the outstanding former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, as the U.N. special envoy to lead the process to define Kosovo's future status. He arrived in the region last week to start the talks. Because so many U.S. interests are involved, a high-level senior American envoy should quickly be named to support Mr. Ahtisaari.

There are at least three questions to be resolved:
· Will Kosovo's Albanian leaders put aside their personal differences and work together for a positive outcome? We know they want independence, but we do not know whether that strong desire will drive them to govern in ways that promote democracy, the rights of minorities and regional stability.
· How will Serbs in both Belgrade and Kosovo react to Mr. Ahtisaari's new approach? Serbia's policy of encouraging Kosovo Serbs to boycott elections and to refuse participation in the Kosovo Assembly is counter-productive. Kosovo Serb leaders need to shape their future, not shun it.
· Will the European Union act strategically? One of the EU's greatest accomplishments has been its ability to promote stability and democracy in Europe's east and south. The EU's Oct. 3 decision to open membership negotiations with Turkey is an important new step in that effort. The next big decision will be setting the right structure for a solution in Kosovo - a "grand bargain" that the United States should support and Mr. Ahtisaari could negotiate.

The "grand bargain" would look like this: In exchange for Belgrade's agreeing to Kosovo's independence, the European Union should offer Serbia a rapid path to EU membership. Kosovo should then also be put on the road to EU membership, though that road will be a longer one. It must have clear milestones for the protection of minorities and their property and the promotion of democracy.

The EU should assume responsibility for administering Kosovo and, as has happened in Bosnia, EU forces should replace NATO military forces in Kosovo. Such an outcome would guarantee democratic rights for all of the people of Kosovo, very much including minorities, and would further the integration of the region within the Euro-Atlantic community.

Allies should also be open to future NATO membership once the three indicted war criminals, Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Ante Gotovina, still at large, face justice in The Hague.

We have a new way to think about the remaining challenge in the Balkans. A stable, peaceful Europe is within sight. We now need the will and the perseverance to make the larger dream a reality.
Marc Grossman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2001-2005, is vice chairman of The Cohen Group, a strategic advisory firm. His e-mail is

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun | Get Sun home delivery

Monday, November 28, 2005

Europe's banlieue - The Economist

Like France's troubled suburbs, the Balkan war zones cannot be sealed off—or safely ignored

THE Balkans, said Otto von Bismarck, are not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. A century and a quarter after that famous brush-off, Europe's richer, smugger parts are still tempted to turn their backs on their continent's most unstable and wildest corner.

To a European Union that views itself as part of the world's elite—a huge, if rather sluggish, economic power that can be rather choosy about who it deals with—its squalid Balkan backyard is an embarrassment. Indeed, there are questions about whether it is part of Europe at all. Serious politicians in France, Germany and Austria were saying, only a decade ago, that countries with an Ottoman or Byzantine heritage—such as Romania, Bulgaria and most of ex-Yugoslavia—weren't really heirs to the glories of European civilisation.

If west Europeans feels uneasy about the Balkans, that is partly because of the blunders they have made. For all his detachment, Bismarck was a master of Balkan diplomacy, but modern Europe has lacked his touch. When old Yugoslavia broke up, it was initially seen, absurdly, as a little local difficulty which Europe could handle with no help from anyone else. Then, when the horrors began, they were dismissed as too intractable to stop.

In fact, as became clear in the final chapters of the conflicts in Bosnia—which ended in a peace agreement exactly a decade ago—and then Kosovo, Balkan wars are as easy to control as people want them to be; but they stop only when America and all the main European powers act together, instead of scoring points off one another. Now, the Balkan guns have mostly fallen silent, and the region and its queasy European friends are at another crossroads (see article). In a year's time, Kosovo may be independent. Bosnia is gradually turning into a functioning state. Montenegro may vote in a referendum to break with Serbia. The accord that saved Macedonia from civil war seems to be holding. An era of intensive care, in which Kosovo was run by Finns or Danes, and Bosnia by Austrians and Brits, may be ending.

So what does rich Europe do now? For a half-exhausted, introverted EU with many problems nearer home to worry about, it is tempting to walk away altogether, at least from the places which seem incorrigible. The Union has proved good at teaching governance to countries like Bulgaria and Romania where politicians want to learn and will get a nice prize—early membership—in return. Among the six republics of old Yugoslavia, there is only one European super-star, Slovenia; and Croatia is back on a European track after wobbling off it.

But as for the other countries of the region—all scarred by war, anarchy or criminal nationalism—a sceptic could make a decent case for writing them off. In Albania and much of ex-Yugoslavia, the forces ranged against the state—crime syndicates and armed nationalists—are often more than a match for legitimate business and politics. Government, in so far as its writ runs at all, is frequently worse than useless: customs barriers and regulations simply obstruct legal business, offer bribe opportunities for bureaucrats and abet crime.

Given that the total population of the Balkans' most problematic parts is barely 20m, and their per head income is barely a fifth of the EU average, why not just quarantine them until they start behaving like potential members of a rich, respectable club? That, in a way, is what Europe managed to do during Bosnia's horrors: the Vienna stock exchange hardly flickered as massacres occurred a couple of hours' drive away.

To find out why that is not an option, ask the British police who, with help from the UN police in Kosovo and several other countries, have just cracked a people-smuggling ring that originated in Turkey and may have spirited as many as 200,000 desperate folk (mostly from eastern Turkey) into the Union's richer places. Or consult a report by Europol, the European police agency, which has traced the activities of Balkan-based crime syndicates. Albanian gangs spirit people into Britain and Germany; guns are reaching Britain from Croatia and points south; the stolen-vehicle trade in the Netherlands is dominated by Serbs; and Chinese syndicates based in ex-Yugoslavia send illegal migrants to Finland. It was once said of the Balkans that they produce more history than can be consumed locally; it is even more true that the region is a big net exporter of crime.

Hard as things are now, they would be worse if rich Europeans tried—and inevitably failed—to seal the Balkans off. The less access the people of south-eastern Europe have to EU markets for goods and labour, the easier it will be for organised crime to tighten its grip on the region and spread mayhem elsewhere. Especially in places like Kosovo where the population is rising fast and underemployed, there is huge unspent energy which will find malign outlets unless a healthy, outward-looking economy can put idle hands to work. Putting a wall round the Balkans will have the opposite effect.

In need of a better future to bury the past
That is one reason why Europe's fate is intertwined with the Balkans. Rich Europeans cannot ignore the region, any more than wealthy citizens of France (or any other European country) can shrug off the problems of compatriots whose poverty and alien speech or faith makes them awkward neighbours.

Another reason to avoid a massive turning of backs on the Balkans is that events there can have repercussions in unexpected places, in part because of religious solidarity. Neither the French riots nor the Balkan wars were mainly the result of clashing faiths. But in this ultra-sensitive area, actions (or non-actions) by European governments send ripples round the world. Just as French mishandling of immigrant youths reverberates in Jakarta and Algiers, so the fate of Bosnia's Muslims caused rage in Malaysia and Pakistan. The effects of any new failures in the Balkans will be felt well beyond the region.

Like it or not, west Europeans must remain engaged in their squalid south-east, offering advice, money and the ultimate prize of admission to the EU club. Otherwise the woes of the Balkans will come to them, just as the French slum-dwellers have rattled nerves in the smart districts of Paris.

Swiss FM Expresses Backing for Kosovo Independence

Ljubljana, 28 November (STA) - Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey

said her country supports the formal independence of Kosovo as she

addressed a press conference in Ljubljana on Monday.

Speaking after meeting Slovenian counterpart Dimitrij Rupel, Calmy-Rey

said that Kosovo's lack of status is cause for many problems, both

political and economic.

Switzerland would like to see Kosovo's status settled first and then its

implementation of standards checked instead of the other way around, she


Kosovo is a very important issue for Switzerland, Calmy-Rey said, adding

that Switzerland is home to 10% of immigrants from Kosovo.

Solving Kosovo's status could resolve many issues, including those of

doing business and investing in the province, she added.

The question of standards is important, although it can be dealt with

after that of Kosovo's status, she said.

Rupel said that he and Calmy-Rey talked about the situation in Western

Balkans in general and that they did not discuss Slovenian President Janez

Drnovsek's nine-point Kosovo status plan at today's meeting.

Yet they agreed that the unresolved status of Kosovo is a potential source

of instability in Southeast Europe, and that the negotiating process should

be broadly supported by the entire international community.

Rupel and Calmy-Rey also discussed bilateral cooperation, with Rupel

thanking Switzerland for its donations to the Slovenia-run International

Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance (ITF).

Additionally, Calmy-Rey stressed the importance of the bilateral agreement

on the protection of mutual investments, as Switzerland is the second

largest source of foreign direct investment in Slovenia.

Drnovsek in Favour of Union of Independent Serbia, Montenegro

Podgorica, 28 November (STA) - President Janez Drnovsek has reiterated his

advocacy of a union of two independent countries in place of the current

Serbia-Montenegro in talks with Montenegrin PM Milo Djukanovic and

Parliament Speaker Ranko Krivokapic.

It would make sense to revive this idea, Drnovsek said, reiterating the

stance that he took in talks earlier on Monday with Montenegrin President

Filip Vujanovic, according to sources in the Slovenian delegation.

This process could have a beneficial impact on the situation in

Montenegro, Drnovsek told Djukanovic. In talks with Speaker Krivokapic,

Drnovsek said this is a possible step towards a stable and long-term


Meanwhile, Krivokapic is reported as having said that the development of

democracy in Montenegro is connected with the path towards independence.

He also drew parallels with the situation in Slovenia prior to its

declaration of independence.

Drnovsek's talks also touched on Kosovo, as the president's visit provoked

protests in Podgorica today against his endorsement of Kosovo independence.

His visit moreover received a lukewarm response from PM Janez Jansa, who

said that after talks with Serbia-Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic,

"I do not expect any negative consequences to arise from this visit."

"Marovic told me his side would also try to draw the most positive results

from it," PM Jansa said. He also stressed that positive solutions are being

considered upon the referendum on the status of Montenegro, most likely to

take place next year.

Kosovo protesters demand ex-KLA commander's release from Hague custody

Pristina, 28 November: Around 1,000 former members of the OVK [or KLA - Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK in Albanian] protested today in the centre of [the capital city of] Pristina, demanding that the Hague tribunal release from custody [ex-]KLA rebel commander Fatmir Limaj.

Following a peaceful protest march through the centre of Pristina, ex-members of the KLA gathered outside the Philology Faculty to read a letter addressed to the international community and the Hague tribunal, in which they demand Limaj's release.

The protest march passed without incidents. A strong international police force secured all entrances to UNMIK [UN Interim Administration in Kosovo] institutions and the building of the Kosovo Assembly, which also houses the government seat.

The Hague tribunal has saccused Limaj, together with Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala, of war crimes in the Lapusnik prison camp in Kosovo.

Source: SRNA news agency, Bijeljina, in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 1224 gmt 28 Nov 05

Slovenian president in Montenegro; pro-Serb opposition protests his support for Kosovo independence

PODGORICA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek visited Montenegro on Monday as several hundred pro-Serb opposition supporters rallied in protest against his stance for independence for Serbia's southern province of Kosovo.

Drnovsek was greeted by Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic and was to talk later with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, both of whom are campaigners for Montenegro's independence from Serbia.

Police held protesters, gathered outside the Montenegrin parliament, away from the entrance, while they chanted: "Go Home, Drnovsek, Kosovo is Serbian."

Andrija Mandic, from the Serbian National Party which called the rally, accused Drnovsek of "going hand-in-hand with (ethnic) Albanian extremists" in his recent comments that independence was the "only realistic option" for Kosovo, currently run by the U.N. and NATO.

Belgrade last month canceled a planned visit by Drnovsek to the Serbian capital, accusing him of "interference" that could prejudice the U.N.-mediated talks on Kosovo's final status.

Kosovo has been run by a U.N. mission and NATO peacekeepers since a 1999 air war halted Serbia's crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians, but its status remains deeply contested, with the province's majority ethnic Albanians demanding full independence while Belgrade insists it remain within Serbia. The province's future is to be decided after U.N.-mediated negotiations between Belgrade and Kosovo Albanian leaders, expected to start early next year.

Slovenia declared independence from the old Yugoslav federation in 1991, while Montenegro stayed in a loose union with Serbia. But relations deteriorated, with Montenegrin leaders pushing for independence.

The EU has tried to talk Montenegro out of opting for secession, fearing new Balkan tensions, but Vujanovic and Djukanovic are committed to holding the independence referendum in April 2006.

While touring the Montenegrin medieval statehood seat of Cetinje with Vujanovic, Drnovsek said that Montenegro "has a right to self-determination but the decision must be made in a democratic way."

Drnovsek also tried to tone down his comments on Kosovo, saying he had proposed a "conditional independence for a five-year trial period," after which the international community would judge whether the province had made enough progress to stand alone.

UN envoy praises Albanian government's stance on Kosovo status talks

Excerpt from report by Ylber Drazhi, "UN envoy for Kosovo praises Albanian government's position", published by Albanian newspaper Rilindja Demokratike on 27 November

Martti Ahtisaari, the special envoy of the UN secretary-general on the status of Kosova [Kosovo], has said he is pleased with the stance taken by the Albanian government on the question of the settlement of Kosova's final status. He described the behaviour of the Albanian government as the best possible and said he was pleased to see that Tirana is actively following this process and has expressed its readiness to put itself at the disposal of the international community, which is engaged in resolving this problem.

Ahtisaari said that the involvement of other actors in this question would only complicate the work of his group. "I think that the role the Albanian government is playing is very appropriate and I appreciate it. I think that the Albanian government is dealing with this issue in the best possible manner. It is following the situation actively and is ready to place itself at our disposal; I appreciate this very much. Their involvement would have created an impossible situation, because many sides would have asked to become actors in this process. This would have complicated the situation for us a great deal," declared Ahtisaari. [Passage omitted]

Source: Rilindja Demokratike, Tirana, in Albanian 27 Nov 05 pp 2, 3

Kosovo story ended with arrival of international forces - Slovene president

ort by Slovene television website on 26 November; subheadings as received:

President Janez Drnovsek has said for Tanjug [agency] that the Kosovo story ended with the arrival of international forces.

In his opinion, it is time for solving the legal aspects of the Kosovo situation. Serbia lost Kosovo in the time of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's authority when force was used in an attempt to solve this problem, Drnovsek said.

The international community reacted then and Serbia has lost it sovereignty in Kosovo, he stressed. Serbia has no sovereignty there because it cannot send its army to Kosovo, he explained. If Serbia sent its army to Kosovo, a war would start, Drnovsek added.

A wrong interpretation

According to some interpretations, Drnovsek is in favour of Kosovo's temporary independence. He rejected this interpretation, saying that he was talking about independence only conditionally.

An emotional reaction from the Serb side

He compared reactions to his stances to the reaction he had experienced in the time of Milosevic's rule. These reactions are mostly full of strong emotions and this has in the past resulted in a war, he added. These emotions influenced the politics which resulted in a war, he said.

Kosovo - a mythical stone around Serbia's neck

In Drnovsek's opinion, such policies continue today. They focus on the past and deal with emotions and not with reality, he believes.

According to Drnovsek, former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said to him in 2001: "The worst thing that can happen to us is that the international community gives us Kosovo back because this will become a mythical stone around Serbia's neck." The president agrees.

Source: Television Slovenia website, Ljubljana, in Slovene 1448 gmt 26 Nov 05

President Rugova congratulates people on Flag Day (Bota Sot)

Bota Sot carries a message Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova addressed the people of Kosovo on the Flag Day, 28 November.

“I express my sincerest congratulations on the Flag Day – 28 November”, Rugova said in his address.

God willing may we enjoy the recognition of the independence of Kosovo from our friends, which would calm the people of Kosovo and this part of Europe and the world.

Kosumi: People of Kosovo have the right to determine their fate

Bota Sot carries an interview with Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi.

Kosovo cannot go back. In fact Kosovo has been independent for six years now. Serbia, during this period, has not had any influence, except in some violent and illegal ways. But, legally, it has no impact on developments in Kosovo. Kosovo de facto is independent and it will be de jure, are some points the paper highlights from the interview.

Kosumi further said that the process of the status talks will not be delayed, as it would endanger the core of the process.

PM Kosumi also said that direct recognition of Kosovo’s independence would be the best solution.
Bota Sot carries a message Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova addressed the people of Kosovo on the Flag Day, 28 November.

“I express my sincerest congratulations on the Flag Day – 28 November”, Rugova said in his address.

God willing may we enjoy the recognition of the independence of Kosovo from our friends, which would calm the people of Kosovo and this part of Europe and the world.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Montenegrin premier tells Serbia to drop its "mythomanic" policy

Text of report by Montenegrin TV on 26 November

[Presenter] Montenegro supports international community's decision to begin the process of defining Kosovo's final status, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has told Pink TV, adding that it was time for Serbia to give up irrational policy imposed by nationalists. On the eve of [Slovene President] Janez Drnovsek's visit to Montenegro, the prime minister said that the Slovene president was welcome.

[Reporter] Assessing that it was about time to solve the status of Kosovo and that a further postponing would not be productive, Prime Minister Djukanovic said that Montenegro would offer to help with this process.

[Djukanovic] We support international community's decision to begin the process of defining the final status of Kosovo by the end of this year, under the conductor's baton of an experienced European statesman such as Martti Ahtisaari - on behalf of the United Nations and the Contact Group - with an ambition to end this process some time in mid-2006.

[Reporter] The prime minister assessed that it was time for Serbia to give up irrational and mythomanic policy.

[Djukanovic] This is why I think that it is now crucially important that the Serbian president and the prime minister of Serbia - as heads of the Serbian negotiation team - realize that there is this realistic political room [for manoeuvre], and simply say thanks to the people who exert unrealistic political and nationalistic pressure on them. They should then take up the steering wheel in a responsible manner and attempt to reach the best possible solution.

[Reporter] The prime minister is not expecting the relations with Serbia to cool down, following the visit by the Slovene president to Montenegro.

[Djukanovic] I wish to say, with a fully peaceful conscience, really, that it is a great honour not only for the president of the [Montenegrin] republic [Filip Vujanovic] but for myself personally, that Montenegro is visited by the president of a friendly country, and also a member of the European Union, which is Slovenia, and - Janez Drnovsek.

[Reporter] The prime minister reiterated that the referendum on the legal status of Montenegro as a state would be held in spring, adding that there were no concrete demands on part of European officials to postpone the declaration of referendum results, although this possibility was mentioned.

[Djukanovic] There might possibly be a talk about postponing this for a month or two, I do not believe longer than that.

[Reporter] Djukanovic reiterated that the doors for the opposition to discuss conditions of the referendum were opened

Source: TV Crna Gora, Podgorica, in Serbian 1830 gmt 26 Nov 05


If Kosovo Albanians get their own state, it will need its own flag. The problem is, many Albanians don't want one

By: Jeta Xharra and Zana Limani in Pristina

Less than a month away from the start of negotiations on Kosovo's final status, its majority Albanians have yet to agree on a flag or coat of arms for the state they hope will emerge from these crucial talks.

So far Kosovo Albanians have flown the flag and symbols of neighbouring Albania, which became independent in 1912.

Now seeking independence from Serbia and a state of their own, they are reluctant to jettison the emblems they are familiar with.

An attempt by Kosovo's President, Ibrahim Rugova, to introduce a new Kosovo flag a few years back was unsuccessful and it was never made official.

This issue of identity and symbols was the subject of much discussion after it was raised on November 9 in a televised debate organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Kosovo. Over 120 public letters and numerous news reports followed the show, which was broadcast on Radio Television Kosova, RTK.

Migjen Kelmendi, editor of the weekly Java magazine, says people shy away from accepting a specifically Kosovar identity, fearing it might be used to keep Kosovo inside Serbia.

"As an Albanian, I want my flag to be red and black. I don't want to change my identity," said Rexhep Selimi, a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, which fought the Serbian army in the 1990s.

Selimi reflects most people's sentiments when he says the flag of the future state of Kosovo should look just like the one they fought under in the Nineties.

That was the black two-headed eagle on a red background - the national symbol of all Albanians in the Balkans for at least a century.

Genc Prelvukaj, a pop musician in Kosovo, says all Albanians cherish the old flag as a symbol of unity.

His last number-one hit, "Proud to be an Albanian", underscores how conscious young Kosovars remain of their Albanian identity.

"Red and black here and red and black there [in Albania]," Prelvukaj said during BIRN's televised debate. "I don't want to be called a Kosovar, I'm an Albanian."

Emrush Xhemajli, head of the nationalist National Movement of Kosovo, LPK, agreed. Any move to foist a specifically Kosovar identity on Kosovo Albanians will fail, he predicted.

"There were many attempts during Tito's rule to create a Kosovar identity separate from the Albanian one but they were all unsuccessful," Xhemajli said. "They will be this time, also."

Xhemajli and Prelvukaj represent mainstream opinion in Kosovo. But some intellectuals - and a few politicians - take a different line.

They feel that a separate Kosovo state must develop its own separate identity, which means new flags and symbols, too.

Nexhmedin Spahiu, author of a recent book, "Towards a Kosovar Identity", says Kosovo Albanians are edging towards a new identity, though they haven't realised it.

"Our identity is Albanian but in the process of creating our state we have to create a Kosovar nation," he said.

"This Kosovar nation does not exist yet but we are heading towards it, as you can't create a state without creating a nation," he added.

Linda Gusia, a sociology professor at Pristina University, feels the process may have gone even further than Spahiu realises.

Whereas Spahiu says a new identity should exist, she says a Kosovar identity exists already - forged by the different historic experiences of Albanians in Albania and Albanians in Kosovo over past decades.

"The fact that many people in Kosovo feel and perceive themselves as Kosovars indicates that this identity exists," Gusia said. "It is an emotion and a reality."

Nazim Rashidi, a BBC correspondent in Albania, also believes Albanians and Kosovars are now essentially separate peoples.

"Kosovars differ from the rest of Albanians as they have lived a different reality from ours," he said. "That's why they already have a different identity. The Kosovar identity already exists."

There is some support on the street for this idea, even if it is a minority stand point.

Krenar Gashi, a sociology student in his twenties, said he was happy with the notion that a Kosovar identity was still in the process of evolution.

"We are ethnically Albanian and are still part of the Albanian nation but soon we will have to start changing that," he said.

Kujtim Salihu, a 29-year-old from Pristina, is also not fussed about the symbols of statehood - having lived already in two different states.

"Today I am an Albanian citizen of Kosovo but before I was an Albanian citizen of Yugoslavia and in the future I will be an Albanian citizen of Albania," Salihu said.

"It could be just like with the Germans in Switzerland," said Betim Hashani, aged 20, taking a different tack. "They identify as Germans but they have their own flag."

Kosovo's politicians are slowly travelling in the same direction, albeit for pragmatic reasons.

Less interested in the question of Albanian identity, they admit it will be difficult for two states to share flags and symbols without creating confusion.

Eqrem Kryeziu, of the Kosovo Democratic League, LDK, said a Kosovo state will need its own emblems, though he is hardly enthusiastic about it.

"Kosovo Albanians are emotionally attached to the national Albanian flag," said Kryeziu. "But we will have to have a separate state flag, although we don't have to love it".

While local politicians, intellectuals and members of the public leisurely ponder the various options, some international observers feel the debate has started too late.

If Kosovars do not get a move on and agree on their emblems, then the international community will do it for them, they say.

Alex Anderson, head of the International Crisis Group in Kosovo, says Kosovo Albanians are under an illusion if they think they can simply transfer their own ethnic symbols onto a state that is supposed to be multi-ethnic and represent a variety of communities.

"Many Kosovo Albanians have not woken up to that yet," he said. "Kosovo's debate on its symbols is starting very late," he added.

Anderson says the need to find a new, completely different, flag, will come as a shock to many people, though it may have long-term benefits.

"The need for a new and different flag may have positive side-effects, as the imagery will compel people to see that an ethnic Albanian identity and a future Kosovo state identity are two different things," he said.

Jeta Xharra is BIRN Kosovo director and Balkan Insight editor in Kosovo. Zana Limani is BIRN Kosovo project coordinator and a regular contributor to Balkan Insight.

US denies mini-Guantanamo in Kosovo, EU fumes over CIA flights

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro - The US military on Saturday denied that it was running a Guantanamo-style prison for terror suspects in Kosovo, as tensions continued to simmer over reports of secret CIA flights across Europe.

“There are no secret detention facilities located on Camp Bondsteel (eastern Kosovo),” Major Michael Wunn, US military spokesman in Kosovo, told AFP in reference to the US base as part of NATO forces in the Balkan province.

Major Wunn said it was “common knowledge” that Camp Bondsteel included a detention facility used to house people detained during NATO peacekeeping operations in the UN-administered southern Serbian province.

But he said it was currently empty and it was not used as a secret prison by the Central Intelligence Agency.

“The facility is operated by US Military Police Soldiers fully trained in Detention Center Operations. Currently, no one is detained in this facility,” he said.

“The facility is subject to inspection by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and is regularly inspected by the United States Army, Europe.”

The denial came as Washington felt mounting European pressure to reveal the routes and activities of its CIA prisoner flights amid concerns about human rights abuses and torture on European territory.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Spanish radio on Saturday that Europeans found any suggestion of torture ”intolerable” and insisted that such reports be investigated.

“I have no doubt that this will be the object of an investigation... It must be investigated and those responsible must pay,” he told Cadena Ser radio.

Meanwhile Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim confirmed that a CIA plane had “put down” at the Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul last week in order to refuel.

“There was a landing requested for technical reasons. It’s landing was authorised. It was not carrying any passengers -- only equipment was on board,” the minister was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

“It filled its tanks with fuel and continued in its way,” he said, adding that when planes requested landings to refuel it was difficult to refuse them.

In Meeting With Rival Factions, U.N. Envoy Paves Way for Kosovo Talks

BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro, Nov. 23 - The United Nations took a step closer to starting talks on the future of Kosovo, perhaps the most intractable issue remaining from the Balkan wars of the 1990's, with a visit by its chief negotiator to the region this week.

The envoy, Martti Ahtissari, a former president of Finland and recently appointed as the United Nations' negotiator, met Tuesday and Wednesday with the leaders of Kosovo's two factions, ethnic Albanians and Serbs, in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, to prepare for possible face-to-face negotiations between the sides early next year.

His tour paves the way for negotiations that are expected to end six years of legal limbo for Kosovo, during which uncertainty over that Serbian province's future has frustrated both its populations and the threatened the chances for long-term stability in the region.

Kosovo has been under the control of a United Nations interim administration since it was wrested from Serbia's control in June 1999 after a 78-day NATO-led bombing campaign. The air campaign came after Serbia sent troops into the province against an ethnic Albanian rebel movement, and evidence emerged of widespread atrocities by the troops against the Albanian majority.

Since then the United Nations has established a regional government with substantial local control. But the mission's role in the province is seen by international officials as increasingly untenable because of the failure to resolve its future status.

Officially Kosovo remains a part of Serbia, contrary to the wishes of the Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the estimated two million people and who want independence. Last year 50,000 ethnic Albanians rioted in the region, forcing 4,000 Serbs and others to flee their homes and killing 19 people.

The difficulty of Mr. Ahtissari's task was underlined just before his visit as Serbian and Albanian political leaders reiterated their diametrically opposing views. On Monday, Serbia's Parliament passed a resolution agreeing to the negotiation process, but rejecting any solution that would remove Kosovo from Serbia. On Tuesday, Kosovo's Albanian leaders told Mr. Ahtissari that they would not accept anything less than independence.

"I insist on the direct recognition of Kosovo's independence that will calm down the region," Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova, said after meeting in his home in Pristina with Mr. Ahtissari. "The time has come to wrap up this business."

Much of the negotiations are expected to focus on how Kosovo's Serbian population, which numbers up to 130,000, can best be protected and have a degree of autonomy from Albanian-dominated institutions.

While the United Nations officials say the final agreement will be the result of negotiation, senior Western diplomats across the region concede it will be difficult to defy Kosovo Albanian demands for independence, despite their failure to prevent attacks on minorities. Forcing Kosovo to remain within Serbia would run the risk of provoking an Albanian insurgency and destabilizing the region, they said.

But some politicians warn that insufficient consideration is being given to what impact Kosovo's independence would have on Serbia.

"Everyone seems to be concerned about the future status of Kosovo; that it will be more or less independent, conditional independence or independence with international supervision," Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia's foreign minister and current chairman in the office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a recent interview. "But they haven't thought thoroughly about what might happen in Serbia."

The negotiations come at difficult time for Serbia. Next year Montenegro is expected to hold a referendum that could also lead to it breaking away from Serbia and becoming an independent state.

Serbia's democratic parties also remain weak, despite five years of democratic government since the fall of the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, Mr. Rupel said.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's coalition government has introduced difficult economic and political changes that have yet to bear fruit. Public enterprises are being restructured with job losses, social security payments have been scaled back, and public expenditures have been cut to ensure economic stability.

This environment, especially if Kosovo and Montenegro were to become independent, could be exploited by the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, which holds the largest number of seats in Parliament, said Vuk Jeremic, the foreign affairs adviser to the reformist president, Boris Tadic.

"We may experience a nationalist wave," Mr. Jeremic said in a telephone interview. "The Radicals will say, what have five years of democracy brought us? The improvements may not be very obvious at this stage." If Kosovo were lost, he said, "I think there will be little we can use to contain them."

Mr. Rupel said he had urged other European foreign ministers at a recent meeting in Brussels to consider how Serbia might be compensated for any possible losses in Kosovo. "I think part of the solution will be finding something attractive for the Serbs," he said. Asked what the response of his counterparts had been to his proposal he said, "They didn't have an answer."

Membership in the European Union some time in the future "isn't really a carrot," he said. Aid or compensation, financial or political would have to be sufficient to strengthen democratic forces enough to make people overlook the loss of Kosovo.

Mr. Jeremic said the whole region needed an additional aid package, to ensure stability after a decision on Kosovo. "There has to be a new initiative for the Balkans within the European Union," he said.

But he emphasized that Serbia could not be bought off on Kosovo. "No matter how high a price you pay for Kosovo, it would still be a sellout," he said. "The compensation has to be found within Kosovo. The compensation will have to be at the expense of Albanians' maximalist platform."

Friday, November 25, 2005

My people deserve their independence - The International Herald Tribune

Hashim Thaci International Herald Tribune

PRISTINA, Kosovo Talks on Kosovo's future status will begin soon. The central issue in these talks will be "sovereignty" and little else. Belgrade has already said that ethnic Albanians can run their own affairs, but that ethnic Serbs must run theirs. What Belgrade has said it will not negotiate is the issue of sovereignty. It is this issue that will be the most contentious.
The people of Kosovo have earned their right to sovereignty. Like the oppressed people of Iraq and Afghanistan after their liberation, the new century saw us breathe the air of a free people for the first time, hold our first free and fair elections, install democratically elected leaders and write a new set of laws and a constitutional framework that set the standard for the region. We are not finished, but much has been achieved.
The people of Kosovo deserve independence. We lived under the control of Belgrade much too long. Whether under Serbian kings, Communists or nationalists, Albanians suffered purges, expulsions, and ethnic cleansing - three times in the 20th century alone. Why should we think a democratically elected government will be any different when the same old nationalism continues to be a force in Serbian politics?
The Serbian state and the Serbian people have lost their moral right to continued sovereignty over the land and people of Kosovo, but not their right to live there as free and equal citizens. However, the Albanian people of Kosovo will never again risk living under Belgrade's rule.
We understand very well the international community's concern for minority groups in Kosovo, especially the Serbs; after all, we share those same concerns for minority communities in Serbia and Macedonia. But let's be clear about one thing. Kosovo is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian, at least 90 percent by any reasonable estimate.
There is certainly an element of prejudice in our society toward ethnic Serbs, just as hostility to ethnic Albanians remains in Serbian society. But keep in mind that every single Albanian family, as well as those of other ethnic communities, experienced murder, beatings, expulsion and property damage, as well as years of humiliation and brutality from the Serbian government throughout the decade of the 1990s. We know of many war criminals still active in the Serbian police and military who have not been brought to justice.
Yet, in spite of all this, the Kosovo government did the right thing after the ethnic clashes of March 2004 that left hundreds homeless and 30 churches destroyed or damaged. Ethnic Albanian political and religious leaders condemned the violence, the government moved quickly to allocate funds to repair the damaged homes and churches, and reconstruction was under way within weeks.
In contrast, up to now the Serbian government in Belgrade has not offered to compensate a single Albanian family for property destroyed by Serbian government forces, nor offered to pay to rebuild any of almost 200 mosques that were damaged or destroyed, even though all of this was done by their own forces or paramilitaries they controlled. What clearer proof is there that Pristina has earned the right to sovereignty over the territory of Kosovo while Belgrade has lost it?
Belgrade talks of "more than autonomy but less than independence," but we had autonomy before. In 1974, we had the highest degree of autonomy imaginable, and Belgrade has already made it clear they are not willing to let us have even that level, not that we would want it at this point, anyway. Because of Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo, that autonomy was lost at Belgrade's whim. It could happen again.
It is simply not in the interest of the international community to set the people of Kosovo back 30 years or more after what we have endured and the efforts we have made to meet the standards of the world community.
Perhaps the best incentive for all of us is for the European Union to admit Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro as three independent countries who have implemented the same standards of democratic development, minority protections and economic safeguards, under the umbrella of NATO. In this way, the entire region can be demilitarized with open borders, a free flow of people, goods and services, strong rule of law, and a vibrant economy with a common currency that unites our various communities. Then and only then will the hatreds and conflicts of the past be truly consigned to collective memory and not resurrected in the experience of each successive generation.
(Hashim Thaci is president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and former political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army.)

Surroi: We see borders as symbols not as walls (Koha Ditore)

ORA leader Veton Surroi has said that there will be no compromise with the independence of Kosovo.

“If there will be changes in the ethnic borders, partition of Kosovo’s territory, then we will ask for changes in the FYROM and in Presevo Valley, meaning we will ask for national unification.” Surroi made these comments in a meeting with party officials, citizens and representatives from Medvedja and Bujanoc in Gjilan/Gnjilane on Wednesday night.

Surroi called the process of status negotiations as the most important challenge in the history of Kosovo. “The importance of historical decisions obliges us to take part in the Negotiations Team building a consensus despite our political differences.”

Talking about post-status challenges, Surroi said challenges to come after the solution of the status are education, health and the economy which have not been an issue so far because of the status of Kosovo.

Surroi said the status of Kosovo was going to be “independence plus”, meaning that Kosovo will be involved in international structures, especially the EU.

US ran Guantanamo-style prison in Kosovo: European rights envoy

PARIS, Nov 25 (AFP) -

The United States ran a detention centre in Kosovo that resembled "a smaller version of Guantanamo", the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner charged Friday in an interview with France's Le Monde newspaper.

Alvaro Gil-Robles told the daily that he had inspected the centre, located within the US military Camp Bondsteel, in 2002 to investigate reports of extrajudicial arrests by NATO-led peacekeepers.

The conditions there "shocked" him, he said.

He described the facility as "small wooden huts ringed by tall barbed wire", each housing "between 15 and 20 prisoners ... wearing orange boiler-suits like the ones worn by Guantanamo inmates."

President George W. Bush's government has been under fire from human rights organisations and lawyers for keeping suspects detained in the US "war on terror" locked up without charges and without access to lawyers for years in a military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Most recently, the United States has also been accused of maintaining a network of so-called "black sites" -- CIA detention centres in foreign countries, notably in Asia and in eastern Europe -- where suspects are subjected to vigorous interrogation techniques that some say amount to torture.

Gil-Robles said he had no evidence that Camp Bondsteel was linked to the alleged secret CIA operations.

"But I do believe that an explanation should be given for this base in Kosovo, as for other potentially suspect sites" in Europe, he told the paper.

Serbia hands over remains of 41 Kosovo Albanians found in mass graves

Text of report in English by independent internet news agency KosovaLive

Prishtina [Pristina], 25 November: The mortal remains of 41 Kosova [Kosovo] Albanians killed by Serb forces during the war in Kosova and found in mass graves in Serbia will be handed over this afternoon, the government's information office has announced.

The Kosova Government Commission on Missing Persons announced that the mortal remains were exhumed from mass graves in Batajnica and Bajina Basta, Serbia.

The head of the Commission on Missing Persons, Nysrete Kumnova said that their handover is expected to take place this afternoon at Merdare border crossing point.

She told KosovaLive that they are the mortal remains of Albanians from Gjakove [Djakovica] and Suhareke [Suva Reka].

Kumnova said that neither local nor the international representatives are working enough to resolve this issue.

Kumnova said that it is absurd for the relatives to come every time at the border crossing point and not to find their loved ones. "The mortal remains should be handed over all at once," she said.

She believes that the issue of missing should necessarily be included during the status talks process.

Source: KosovaLive website, Pristina, in English 25 Nov 05

UNMIK chief assures Kosovo citizens there will be no division on ethnic lines

Text of report in English by independent internet news agency KosovaLive

Prishtina [Pristina], 25 November: The head of UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], Soeren Jessen-Petersen, assured once again the Kosovars that there will be no division on ethnic lines.

Jessen-Petersen made those comments following a regular meeting with Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi.

He said that the most influential international institutions have expressed several times against division, "and most recently Ahtisaari has also confirmed it to me during his visit here," he added.

"We can assure the people of Kosova [Kosovo] that one of the guiding principles of the Contact Group is that there will be no division. The Contact Group has not changed its principles, neither it is going to change them," he said.

Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi voiced also convinction that there will no division, and that Kosova is one and indivisible.

He also said that all possibilities to reintegrate that part of Kosova into the lawful institutions and to dismantle the illegal structure should be sought during the status talks.

As far as the role of UNMIK during the status talks, Jessen-Petersen said that UNMIK during this time will work closely with the PISG [Provisional Institutions of Self-Government] and political parties and will support implementation of standards, decentralization and all important areas, without prejudging status talks outcome.

He also said that the institutions of Kosova have expressed readiness for a continuance of the international presence in Kosova, "not because UNMIK mandate will end but because of some other disagreements".

Kosumi and Jessen-Petersen will also discuss about establishment of an agency on property to replace the Housing and Property Directorate, which ends its mission in the end of December.

"We believe that this agency will be established and will facilitate resolving of those issues, which are among Kosova's biggest problems," Kosumi said.

Source: KosovaLive website, Pristina, in English 25 Nov 05

1st Kosovo Albanian-Serbian leaders dialogue set for early 2006

Martti Ahtisaari, special U.N. envoy on Kosovo future status, said Friday he hopes the first direct talks between leaders of Serbia and of the Kosovo Albanians could be organized at the beginning of next year.

At a press conference in Belgrade ending his two-day visit after talks with top Serbian leaders, Ahtisaari said his headquarters in Vienna would be fully operational at the beginning of next year.

''Hopefully in the beginning of the New Year we can get both parties together,'' Ahtisaari said.

The former president of Finland has been appointed by the United Nations as special envoy for defining the future of Kosovo, formally province of Serbia and part of the Serbia and Montenegro Union, but for the last over six years under the U.N. administration and control of some 17,500-strong NATO-led troops.

Ahtisari and his team have a rather difficult task in mediating between the extreme demands of the majority Albanians on Kosovo, will accept nothing less than full independence and even hinting possible renewed armed actions, and the Serbs insisting that the sovereignty over the province should remain intact.

The envoy on his first fact-finding mission in the region since he was appointed by the United Nations said that he was satisfied with the talks he had so far in Pristine and Belgrade. He added he had collected a lot of information which was a ''good basis'' to follow up the mission.

Ahead of the current trip, the U.N. envoy had asked all the involved parties to present their positions on the future of Kosovo in written form.

Just before his arrival in the region the ethnic Albanian-dominated Parliament of Kosovo approved a resolution insisting on secession of the province and its complete independence.

The Serbian Parliament responded with a resolution asking Kosovo to remain part of Serbia, with a possibility of getting the highest autonomy. Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic explained the concept would mean all the powers for Kosovo to be concentrated in Pristine and the province to be deprived only from having a seat in the United Nations and having foreign minister.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led KFOR troops were deployed on Kosovo and the province was put under U.N. rule in mid-1999after the ethnic Albanian rebellion and the fierce clashes with Belgrade forces which led to a humanitarian crisis in the province.

Kosovo has a population of roughly 2 million people, presumably 90 percent of that ethnic Albanians. However, over 250,000 inhabitants, most of them Serbs, fled from the province in the past several years mainly to Serbia proper.

From Belgrade, Ahtisaari is continuing his tour to Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

US Copper Giant to Invest in Kosovo

Pristina, Kosovo (ANTARA News) - The world`s biggest copper producer, Phelps Dodge, has won a license to dig in Kosovo, the first such project in the UN-run Serbian province, the UN Mission (UNMIK) said Thursday.

Phelps was granted the exploration license for northeastern Kosovo by the Independent Commission for Mines and Minerals (ICMM), which is jointly run by international and local officials in the southern Serbian province.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since the end of 1998-99 war between Serbian troops and ethnic Albanian guerillas seeking independence of Kosovo.

Until now, no companies have mined for copper in Kosovo, but authorities have issued about 60 licenses since April, and the province is believed to contain a minimum of 13.5 billion euros (16 billion dollars) worth of minerals and metals, including copper, zinc and lead.

Phelps Dodge and its two divisions, Phelps Dodge Mining and Phelps Dodge Industries employ more than 15,500 people worldwide, said it was "prepared to directly invest some 500 million euros in Kosovo, should the deposit reveal itself substantial enough to warrant a mega-mine."

UNMIK noted that "the exploration license specifies that work must be started within 90 days."

ICMM official Alexander Valenta called the contract a "major development and the first of its kind in Kosovo.

"For years, we have suspected that the region was rich in copper resources," Valenta said.

He added that several other major mining firms "have expressed definite interest in Kosovo`s copper and other resources and more interest is expected over coming months."

Still technically part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO bombing campaign ended a Serbian crackdown on separatists in 1999.

The UNMIK announcement came three days after UN special envoy Martti Ahtisari, charged with leading negotiations on the status of Kosovo, launched initial talks and shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina, AFP reported.(*)

Mining Opportunities May Abound in the New Kosovo

By Stephen Clayson
24 Nov 2005 at 02:48 PM EST

LONDON ( -- The uncertain political status of the Serbian province of Kosovo has left a variety of possibly interesting mineral assets in a state of suspension. Now however, the powers that be in Kosovo are organising the sale of these assets, and concurrently offering assurances on the long-term political stability of the province.

Following the NATO lead occupation of Kosovo in 1999, the province was established as a UN protectorate whilst technically remaining part of Serbia. Although no long term political settlement has yet been established between Serbia, Kosovo and the UN, the interim UN administration, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), feels that a sound enough political basis has been established for province’s war ravaged economy to return to some sort of normality.

Part of the way in which UNMIK intends to engineer this is by privatising some of the province’s mineral resources, which are fairly extensive and range in stages of development from the pure green field to the developed but requiring restoration. The resources include bauxite, lead-zinc, nickel laterites, and a highly significant proportion of Europe’s lignite coal deposits. The latter might provide an opportunity for the construction of an associated power station with a ready market for its output.

The privatisation of mineral assets has already begun; last week saw a deal signed between UNMIK and a company called International Mineral Resources for the purchase by the latter of Ferronikeli, a complex in Kosovo of nickel mining, processing and smelting facilities. International Mineral Resources is a subsidiary of Eurasian Mineral Resources, a sizable private mining and metals firm. The Ferronikeli assets are expected to be sold for 30.5 million euros, which given the strength of today’s nickel market could prove a bargain if they can be expeditiously and economically returned to production by their new owners.

The mineral assets intended for privatisation in Kosovo have been deemed socially owned and are held by in trusteeship UNMIK, thus giving it authority to privatise them. Privatisations may be special or regular, the difference being that special assets may have conditions or obligations attached to their sale. According to Dr Joachim Ruecker, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General United Nations in Kosovo, some mining assets are likely to be classed as special privatisations. However, the conditions imposed by UNMIK are not intended to be too onerous, and may be limited to stipulations such as undertaking a certain amount of mineral processing work within Kosovo or employing a certain number of local staff.

A key issue for those considering the purchase of assets being privatised in Kosovo has to be future security of title. On this issue Ruecker offers the assurances of UNMIK that there are likely to be few instances of ongoing title disputes, and that even if this were to be the case, physical restitution to plaintiffs would not be a legal option.

A further pivotal question for investors will be that of when an ostensibly permanent political settlement can be reached, both to resolve Kosovo’s international status and the ethnic tensions within the province. This will probably be in large part determined by the UN Security Council, and could happen as early as 2007. Whatever settlement is reached however, foreign troops are likely to remain in the province to maintain order for some time afterwards.

Kosovo has a number of points somewhat in its favour as a new mining location. It is located on the edge of Europe - entail logistical benefits for exports and imports. The official currency of the province is and is likely to remain the euro, lessening the currency risk to any operation. Labour costs in the province are low, being estimated on average at around 200 euros per month, while levels of education remain fairly high and labour relations are reportedly generally cordial. Most crucially, Kosovo’s new economy is being conceived as free market in its orientation.

Kosovo’s physical infrastructure undoubtedly requires repair and improvement, but this is being undertaken by the administration, and standards in any case remain higher than in many comparable extra-European mining locations. Access to sea cargo facilities in neighbouring Albania and Montenegro is practicable, and a railway running south from Kosovo to Thessaloníki in Greece could feasibly be employed if the necessary line improvements can be made within the province.

In the final analysis, although political risks remain somewhat high in the longer term for mining investors in Kosovo, the acquisition of assets in the province now might represent good value when global market conditions and local economic and geological factors are taken into account.

Serbian Cabinet Names Kosovo Talks Team

Belgrade. The Serbian Government has formed its team of negotiators for the Kosovo status talks, the Serbian B92 reports.
The team will be headed by Serbian President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Affairs Minister Vuk Draskovic. Kostunica and Tadic will be the co-presidents of the team.
Other members of the delegation include Tadic's advisors Dusan Batkovic and Leon Kojen, Kostunica's advisors Aleksandar Simic and Slobodan Samardzic, Kosovo Coordination Centre President Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, and Kosovo Serb representatives Marko Jaksic and Goran Bogdanovic.
The team will have additional advisors, as well as four work groups.
The media informs that meanwhile, the UN special envoy for the negotiations, Martti Ahtisaari, has arrived in Belgrade where he will spend two days in talks with officials of Serbia and Serbia-Montenegro.
He is scheduled to meet Kostunica and federal Foreign Affairs Minister Vuk Draskovic today and President Boris Tadic tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

UN envoy prepares for talks on Kosovo

By Nicholas Wood International Herald Tribune

BELGRADE The United Nations moved closer to starting talks on the future of Kosovo, perhaps the most intractable issue remaining from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, with a visit by the its chief negotiator to the region this week.
Martti Ahtissari, formerly president of Finland and now the UN envoy to the region, met with Albanian and Serbian leaders of Kosovo on Tuesday and Wednesday in a round of shuttle diplomacy before possible face-to-face negotiations between the two sides early next year. From Pristina, in Kosovo, he was expected to travel to Belgrade on Thursday for meetings with senior government officials and then to Macedonia and Albania.
His tour is to pave the way for negotiations intended to end six years of legal limbo. Uncertainty during that period over the province's future has frustrated its population and jeopardized the region's chances of establishing long-term stability.
Kosovo has been under the control of a UN interim administration since it was wrested from Serbia's control in June 1999 after a 78-day bombing campaign led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO began the air campaign after widespread atrocities against the region's majority Albanian population.
Since then the United Nations has established a regional government with substantial local control. But the UN mission's role in the province is seen by international officials as increasingly untenable because of the failure to resolve the area's future status.
Officially, Kosovo remains a part of Serbia, contrary to the wishes of ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the province's population, an estimated two million people.
The ethnic Albanians want independence. Last year 50,000 of them rioted in the region, and 19 people were killed.
The difficulty of Ahtissari's task was underlined just before his visit as Serb and Albanian political leaders reiterated opposing views.
On Monday, Serbia's Parliament passed a resolution agreeing to the negotiation process, but rejecting any solution that would remove Kosovo from Serbia. On Tuesday, Kosovo's Albanian leaders told Ahtissari that they would accept nothing less than independence.
"I insist on the direct recognition of Kosovo's independence that will calm down the region," Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova, said after meeting Ahtissari. "The time has come to wrap up this business."
While the UN officials say the final agreement will be the result of negotiation, senior Western diplomats across the region concede it will be difficult to defy the demands of Kosovo's Albanian population for independence, despite Albanians' failure to prevent attacks on minorities. Forcing Kosovo to remain within Serbia would run the risk of provoking an Albanian insurgency, they said.
But while these fears are foremost in the minds of many Western officials, some politicians in the region warn that insufficient consideration is being given to what effect Kosovo's independence would have on Serbia.
"Everyone seems to be concerned about the future status of Kosovo; that it will be more or less independent - conditional independence or independence with international supervision," Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia's foreign minister and chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a recent interview. "But they haven't thought thoroughly about what might happen in Serbia."

Kosovo: Annan's envoy on final status for UN-run province meets with Serbs

23 November 2005 – Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy leading the process to decide the future status of Kosovo today met with Serb political leaders in the Serbian province, which the UN has run since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid grave human rights abuses in fighting between majority Albanians and Serbs in 1999.

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, a veteran UN trouble-shooter appointed earlier this month to lead the talks, which Mr. Annan has said could include the options of independence or autonomy for Kosovo where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1, met with ethnic Albanian leaders yesterday.

Tomorrow he will visit the Serbian capital of Belgrade, where officials have declared their opposition to the province's independence.

Jovanovic: Kosovo’s independent ‘thinkable’ (Koha Ditore)

Koha Ditore reports that the Serbian politician Cedomir Jovanovic, said in an interview to “Der Standard” that a condition for Kosovo’s independence is that an agreement that guarantees Kosovo Serbs all civic rights and a normal life and the return of Serb refugees. “It would be catastrophic if Belgrade because of a possible independence for Kosovo to enter again a conflict with the entire world”, Jovanovic is quoted as saying.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kosovo statehood is indispensable for Balkan stability

By Agron Bajrami
EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - There are, as some say, a myriad of solutions for Kosovo. But only one has the power to make the final push of the whole Balkans region towards Europe. And that one is an independent Kosovo.

This week, Martti Ahtisaari, the UN envoy for the Kosovo status talks, starts meeting political representatives in Pristina and Belgrade in what is expected to be the final stage of putting in place the last jigsaw piece in the political mosaic of south-eastern Europe.

The reputable Finn will be opening the series of hauntingly difficult discussions that are expected to result in a viable solution that will justify the international community's engagement since 1999, when NATO led an air campaign against Belgrade to end years of Serb repression against the Albanian majority in Kosovo.

With the time ticking away for the fruitless status quo of the last six years of the UN protectorate, there are more and more voices being drawn into the debate over the most desirable and viable solution for Kosovo.

Different analysis and perspectives are being thrown into the debate, and most of them are insisting that some form of independence is indeed the best solution for Kosovo.

While Serbia, and a dropping number of its allies still maintain that Kosovo must remain under Belgrade's rule and within the borders of Serbia, the facts on the ground are mercilessly straightforward: Kosovo is de facto independent from Serbia - what remains is to make the settlement legal.

Therefore, the best possible, realistic solution, and the only one that can guarantee long-term stability in the Balkans, is precisely granting independence for Kosovo.

Apart from being the only just solution, this can also be turned into the first true long-term success story of the West's involvement in the Balkan crisis, since only through independence can Kosovo's multi-ethnic character be preserved.

There are several factors and arguments that weigh heavily on the side of an independent Kosovo with its current borders.

First of all, this is the only just solution. Serbia, as a state, has engaged in systematic discrimination and massive repression against the Albanians in Kosovo for years.

The 1999 NATO air campaign came after 10 years of apartheid that culminated with ethnic cleansing and war crimes against the majority population. During 1998 alone, Serb police and military forces killed more than 2,000 people and 400,000 were displaced.

During the spring of 1999, forces under Belgrade's command, in their campaign of planned ethnic cleansing, killed more than 10,000 Albanians and forcibly deported around one million. More than 120,000 houses were burned, cities emptied, and an entire population traumatized.

For these reasons, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, has brought war crimes charges against several of the highest-ranking Serb and Yugoslav officials of that time: Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Yugoslavia, Milan Milutinovic, then president of Serbia, Nikola Sainovic, then deputy prime-minister of Yugoslavia, Nebojsa Pavkovic, then Serb army general with command authority in Kosovo, Sreten Lukiq, then Serb police general with command authority in Kosovo.

Accordingly, it is the state which carried out war crimes in Kosovo that has had the irreversible effect of depriving Serbia of its right to have a say in Kosovo's future.

Of course, there were grave mistakes during the last six years in governing Kosovo. But for those failures - like the March 2004 violence - the blame is not only on the Albanian side, but should be shared, since the UN mission here has been the highest administrative authority. And, those failures cannot in any way eclipse the systematic terror of the Serbian state against the Albanian majority in Kosovo since the 1980s.

Serbia today - even five years after Slobodan Milosevic is removed from power - is still pursuing its policy of territorial conquest, which derives from the Serb nationalist platform of the 19th century.

Even though the current officials in Belgrade try to put the whole blame on Milosevic, they themselves have constantly pursued the same nationalistic policy. Even today their statements are about territories, not people; their policy is based on historical myths, not programmes for good governance.

Last week, Serbian president Boris Tadic, while visiting Russia, publicly proposed dividing Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians by creating two separate entities.

This formula is not working in Bosnia and can bring only new segregation. Also last week, in several statements, Serb foreign minister Vuk Draskovic claimed that Serbia does not want to rule over the Albanian citizens of Kosovo, which effectively means that Belgrade wants the territory but not the people living there.

Therefore, Belgrade's offer for "more than autonomy, less than independence," apart from being insincere, is also too little too late.

Righting the wrongs
There is, of course, a lot left undone. Human rights records in Kosovo are worthy of blame. The treatment of minorities, especially the Serbs, has been shameful.

The majority, also, has not achieved a better standard of living. The economy is in ruins, unemployment is high, and poverty is widespread. Governance is awkward, politics is dirty, corruption is on the rise, and the system of values is distorted.

All this, and much more, is hurting Kosovars of all ethnic and religious backgrounds.

But, Kosovo is not the only one with these problems. The whole region, from Serbia, through Bosnia and Herzegovina to Macedonia, is engulfed in the same problems.

The four wars, initiated by Serbia in the 1990s, have left deep scars in most of these societies. The healing is a process and will take time. Some wounds might never heal completely.

Functionality, stability and security
Therefore, for Europe, and the international community in general, there is an imperative to treat the Kosovo status issue in a way that will guarantee functionality, political stability and regional security.

In Kosovo, the six post-war years have been a time of learning difficult lessons. Just as democracy is not only about having fair and free elections, also functionality is not only about having democratic institutions and international aid.

Creating a functional society in Kosovo - just as throughout the rest of the Balkans - has turned out to be a very difficult task, but not an impossible one.

One other lesson learned since 1999 is that lack of status is the best recipe for instability and unpredictability.

Under independence, Kosovo's main source of political instability - its unclear status - would be gone, while the security threats should be far easier to deal with. Only then would the Kosovars be fully accountable.

Kosovo, as part of Serbia, can deliver none of this. Quite the opposite: while the absolute majority of Kosovars are completely unwilling to live under Belgrade's rule, Serbia itself has never shown interest in treating these 2 million as something more than unwanted second-class citizens.

Such a combination will produce anything but functionality, stability and security.

On the other hand, after liberation Kosovo and Serbia have become accustomed to living separately. Linking them back again will certainly cause more short-term trouble and long-term problems than independence.

In addition to this, the whole arrangement will significantly affect the wider neighbourhood.

Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and the Preshevo valley are going to be directly touched by the status of Kosovo, with ethnic Albanian populations living there. Only a multi-ethnic Kosovo, with a status reflecting the will of the majority, can be a guarantor of long-term stability and security in the region.

Denying Kosovo independence is the best way to bring the whole southern flank of the Balkans back into the 1990s.

Future international presence and European integration
It is clear that any solution to Kosovo's status is going to require additional and continuous Western presence and support.

Chances are that NATO will have to continue its role as the sole military structure in Kosovo for several more years.

Also, the UN mission will transform into some sort of EU-led presence, whose mission is still to be decided.

But this international presence can serve as guarantor of a status agreement only if the majority accepts the solution.

Otherwise, the EU mission would be effectively administering a Gaza Strip or West Bank rather than a Kosovo. Turning Kosovo into a Palestine would, of course, also mean that Kosovo and Serbia would move away from European integration as well. But not only them: Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro would face trouble and pain as well.

There are of course, as some say, a myriad of solutions for Kosovo. But only one has the power to make the final push of the region towards Europe. And that one is an independent Kosovo.

The author is editor in chief of Koha Ditore, Kosovo's biggest daily newspaper

Six years in transition, Kosovo eyes final status talks

UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who helped end the last of the Balkan conflicts, is touring the war-torn region this week.
By Beth Kampschror | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
PRISTINA, KOSOVO – Albanian politicians here say they're more than ready to start negotiating their way out of the six-year limbo as a UN-administered province of Serbia.
"This is the final piece of the puzzle," says Blerim Shala, who coordinates the Albanian negotiators' expert groups. "Everybody's fed up with these transitional periods. Nobody wants to see Kosovo as a failed state."
Determining the final status of this province, roughly the size of greater Los Angeles, is seen as the key to wider stability in the Balkans. Talks will probably begin before the end of the year, and UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who helped negotiate an end to the Kosovo conflict six years ago, arrived in the region this week to lay the groundwork for his shuttle diplomacy between Pristina and the Serbian capital Belgrade.

Mr. Shala says the bickering that disrupted the Albanians' negotiating team this fall is over. But no one says the negotiations will be easy. While the ethnic Albanian majority here has hankered for independence since a US-led NATO bombing drove Serbian police and military out of the province in 1999, Serbs have always wanted to remain part of Serbia.

The northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, divided since 1999 into an Albanian-dominated south and a Serb-dominated north, typifies the rifts between the two sides. In March 2004, ethnic Albanian riots targeting Serbs left more than a dozen people dead and hundreds of Serb houses burned, and turned the bridge that connects north and south into a no-man's land.

Today, people and cars are again crossing the bridge, though Serb minivans taking people south switch their Serbian license plates for Kosovo ones before crossing the bridge - in fear of drive-by shooting attacks.

Serbs recently polled by a UN agency said that their biggest problem was public and personal security. Some Albanians say those fears are exaggerated.

"What (the Serbs) want, they have," says Sylejman Klinaku, who is visiting south Mitrovica on business. "They want more and more and more, but they have enough. They can go everywhere in Kosovo, but they don't want to because of politics. This way they have the advantage."

But a different story is heard on the other side of the river. "There's no water, there's no power, there's no freedom of movement," says Dragana Nerandzic, a young Serb.

"I have a plan to try to go to Graz [in Austria] to do post-diplomatic work," says Ms. Nerandzic. "If that doesn't work out, I'll go to Belgrade."

Kosovo is also troubled by constant power outages, an unemployment rate of up to 60 percent,and estimated average monthly wages of 150 to 200 euros. Albanian insiders say status is the only way to solve the problems.

"Status will calm the region and help the economy - many investors hesitate while Kosovo remains unsolved," says Avni Arifi, senior political adviser to Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi. "And it would be a huge attack on extremists on all sides. Kosovar extremists wouldn't have any reason to exist."

Fears of such extremists were renewed last month when a group calling itself the Kosovo Independence Army began issuing threatening communiqués. At the same time, reports surfaced of masked, armed men stopping cars at night in western Kosovo. The UN and other organizations warned their staffs not to travel there after dark. Representatives of the 18,000-strong NATO peacekeeping force here, KFOR, say they have no indication that the groups are organized. Kosovo's fledgling police force has also increased patrols out of the western hub of Pec in the past month.

"Some people are scared and not going out at night," says Naser Humaj, who owns a car repair shop near Gjakova. "You have many people who want to take advantage of the situation, but they don't have support of the people. This is an army that nobody wants. We elected the people we want to do this for us in Pristina."

While ethnic Albanians look to Pristina, Kosovo's Serbs look to Belgrade for answers.

This tendency on Serbs' part has been the "most serious setback" in the past six years of UN administration, says the head of the UN Mission to Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen.

"We have not been good enough in engaging them, but I also believe Belgrade must share a lot of the blame," he says.

"There has basically been a policy of boycotts, in that the Kosovo Serbs have never received the green light from Belgrade to engage in institutions here and to engage with us."

Kosovo Albanians give UN envoy independence plans

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AFP) - Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders called for international "goodwill" after giving UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari their plans for making the province independent of Serbia.

Ahtisaari, who arrived in Kosovo on Monday, met the five-member team that will represent ethnic Albanians in the delicate talks on Kosovo's future status, including President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi.

The negotiations are set to determine whether Kosovo can break away from Belgrade, as demanded by its Albanian majority, or will remain within Serbia, whose people consider the province the birthplace of their civilisation.

"Our delegation presented Mr. Ahtisaari with a document on our plans for independence," Kosovo President Rugova told reporters after the meeting. "We expect goodwill from Mr. Ahtisaari and the international community over the question of Kosovo."

Earlier during the meeting, a group of up to 30 protestors from the Albanian pressure group Self-Determination staged a demonstration near Rugova's heavily guarded home in the provincial capital Pristina, where the gathering was being held.

The group, which opposes any negotiations with Serbia over Kosovo's future status, daubed blood-red paint and wrote "crime scene" on two maps they drew on either side of the residence in suburban Velanija.

The images were apparently meant to symbolise alleged atrocities committed by forces of then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic during the province's 1998-99 war.

Milosevic is on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity and violations of war customs for his part in the conflict.

The conflict between the Belgrade-controlled forces and Albanian separatist guerrillas was brought to an end six and a half years ago by a 78-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbian military positions and infrastructure.

Later Tuesday, Ahtisaari is to meet with the province's Serbian Orthodox Church leaders, who will, according to Serbian media, call on the UN envoy to resolve Kosovo's status in line with international law.

They are also expected to demand special protection of ancient Orthodox churches and monasteries in the province, many of which have been damaged by Albanian extremists since NATO entered the territory in June 1999.

In March 2004, dozens of Kosovo's churches were attacked during three days of violence in which 19 people were killed, nearly 900 were injured and an estimated 4,500 -- mostly Serbs -- were forced from their homes.

On Monday, Ahtisaari met with Kosovo's UN administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen and Giuseppe Valotto, who heads the NATO-led forces that have kept the peace in the province since June 1999.

"I am delighted we are here so soon after my appointment to lead the talks on Kosovo's future status," Ahtisaari told reporters after landing at Pristina airport along with his assistant, Austrian diplomat Albert Rohan.

Kosovo newspapers said Tuesday the initial negotiations -- expected to be held in the form of shuttle diplomacy between Pristina, Belgrade and other Balkan cities -- would last at least a month.

After the first phase, Ahtisaari was expected to arrange a direct meeting between Kosovo Albanian and Serbian leaders, likely in Vienna at the beginning of next year, media reports in Pristina said.

Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, was appointed to head the talks on Kosovo's future status on November 1. It is the 68-year-old's second mission concerning Kosovo after he helped to convince Milosevic to withdraw Serbian forces from the province in June 1999.