Monday, December 26, 2005

Ex-premier insists on Kosovo independence

Former Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi has said "there can be no conditional independence", adding that "there can be either independence or nothing". He said Kosovo was demanding independence from Serbia, not from the international community, and that NATO could stay in Kosovo as long as it was necessary. The following is the text of interview with Rexhepi by Edlira Prenga; place and date not given, entitled "Rexhepi: Negotiations at shuttle diplomacy stage", published by Albanian newspaper Koha Jone on 22 December, the first paragraph is Koha Jone introduction:

Former Kosova [Kosovo] Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi commented yesterday on all the latest developments in Kosova concerning its final status. Rexhepi said that the negotiations were at an initial stage and the most important thing was to ensure that this stage would end with the establishment of an international group, which would provide a final solution to this process. Referring to the constitution, among other things, he said that the Serbian minorities in Kosova enjoyed the best status in Europe. However, the problem was that the Serbs were not integrated into the Kosova institutions. On the other hand, he also commented on the role of Albania. He said that Albania had so far displayed mature behaviour, without making strong declarations. As far as the term "conditional independence" is concerned, Rexhepi said that Kosova has already left that stage behind, and what it now needed was independence without conditions.

[Prenga] The talks on defining Kosova's final status have already started. What do you think about the beginning of this important process?

[Rexhepi] After a long, six-year waiting period, the talks on defining Kosova's definitive status have at least begun. At first, we had the visit of Marti Ahtisari, the chief negotiator, with his team to Prishtina [Pristina], Belgrade, Podgorica and Shkup [Skopje] to collect our opinions and proposals. This is described as the initial shuttle diplomacy in which no-one has a clear plan of how these talks will continue. We will wait for another direct meeting between the Kosova and Serbian sides with the mediation of the chief negotiator or other international structures, even though everyone familiar with reality in the Balkans knows that these negotiations will not be successful and might, initially, fail, because we have had enough time, decades on end, and we have not been able to resolve our problems, particularly after the war.

Therefore, it is very likely that the two sides will not be able to agree on high-standing concepts. I think that the process should end with the convocation of an international conference, which might attempt to resolve the question of Kosova's status.

[Prenga] According to some rumours, there are conflicts in the negotiating group on the definition of Kosova's status. You said that the negotiations are at a shuttle stage. What should Kosova politicians practically do?

[Rexhepi] There is full unity in the Kosova negotiating group. In addition to the negotiating group, there is also a political group and expert sub-groups with coordinators, who will prepare the necessary documents and provide strong logistics.

The negotiating group is very clear about its mandate, which is based on the [Kosovo parliamentary] resolution for an independent and sovereign state. There are 11 points [of this resolution], which make clear what can be negotiated and what cannot be negotiated. This is the only mandate for decision-making; there is no other mandate. Every major decision should be subjected to discussion in the assembly. From this point of view, there is not much room for manoeuvre. We have not gone into these negotiations with maximum demands. Our demands are realistic; there are demands for an independent and sovereign Kosova. We have no flexibility, at all, as far as the independence is concerned. We are not ready to make any compromise on that.

Only if we have independence can we have a state claiming to be a functional democratic state, in which there is room for the protection of the human, ethnic, cultural, and religious rights, all at high standards. This is an area in which we have readiness and flexibility.

[Prenga] Referring to the situation and the position taken by Serbia and Greece, one can say that the Balkans is a "hotbed". How do you think can this situation be resolved?

[Rexhepi] It has been a "hotbed" particularly during the war. Now the situation is more peaceful. If, from a political point of view, it is considered a hotbed, I think that the independence of Kosova would stabilize the region, in general. One can expect the Serbs to disagree with Kosova's independence.

However, I do not think that the Greeks would have the same attitude, because Greek official policy is in line with the principles set by the Contact Group. Their view is not different from that of this group. They are interested to know what the status of the religious communities will be. They want us to accept that the religious communities are administered by the clerics themselves. However, we cannot accept the extra-territoriality of these communities. Therefore, I think that the Greeks will be in line with the Contact Group.

[Prenga] Will the Serbian minorities in Kosova be respected?

[Rexhepi] On the basis of the constitutional framework, the position of the Serbian minorities is more advanced than that of the minority communities in Europe. I can give you an example. They have been allotted 10 seats in the parliament irrespective of their election results. In the last parliamentary election they gained an additional 13 seats, which means that they had 23 seats at a time when their percentage [of the total population] is 5 to 6 per cent. They are, thus, well represented. However, the problem is that they are not integrated into the democratic institutions. They do not take part in the election and their dream is to have Kosova returned to Serbia.

[Prenga] What do you think about Albania's role in the settlement of Kosova status?

[Rexhepi] I think that this role has been, generally, positive. Albania has been continuously careful, with a pragmatic policy to ensure that it is a factor of stability in the Balkans, because this is, primarily, in the interest of Albania as well as in the interest of the region, in general. It has never made pompous, nationalist, or similar declarations.

Indeed, one can even say that Tirana's position has been more moderate than it should have been, because we justly expect Albania to come out openly, without hesitation, in favour of Kosova's independence. This position was, in fact, confirmed by [Albanian] Assembly Chairwoman [Jozefina Topalli], the delegation of [Albanian Assembly] foreign policy commission, and the [Albanian Assembly] European Integration [commission] in their meetings with us. This is natural, because we should now feel ourselves at ease. There will be two Albanian states in the Balkans and we will have better relations. This is normal.

[Prenga] Chief Negotiator Ahtisari declared during his recent visit to Albania that Albania can be an important player in these solutions.

[Rexhepi] Ahtisari has said that Albania will not be a decision-making factor and we know that it cannot be a decision-making factor. However, it can play a very active role by providing its support for the settlement of Kosova's definitive status. It cannot be a passive observer. It should play an active role, not a decision-making role, because no neighbouring country will take part in the decision-making process.

[Prenga] Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj has used the term of "conditional independence". What does this term really mean?

[Rexhepi] Mustafaj is not alone in using this term. There is speculation with it in Europe and, probably, the United States, depending on where the analysts are located. What does conditional independence mean? None of these analysts has explained whether it is now time for Kosova to acquire its independence. None of them has said what conditions should be set to Kosova.

I think that Kosova has currently a kind of status indicative of conditional independence. Therefore, it is right for us to expect independence, not conditions.

Such declarations can be made by the international community. But we cannot expect Albania to make them. We are ready to ask - and we will ask - for the presence of NATO for as long as necessary, for assistance in the judiciary in order to be more effective, for assistance in the economic structures, and in all the mechanisms of international interest.

In a way, we are demanding independence from Serbia, not from the international community. Therefore, there can be no conditional independence. There can be either independence or nothing.

[Prenga] Do you think that Kosova has sufficient potential to become an independent state?

[Rexhepi] This is relative. Even if you had an abundant budget with no limitations, you need 10 to 15 years to build all the state structures. Kosova is under construction. The government does not have all the potential. However, there are states with democratic institutions at a lower stage than those in Kosova and they are still surviving. A question could be whether Kosova can be economically viable and I think that it can be economically viable.

Source: Koha Jone, Tirana, in Albanian 22 Dec 05

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