Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Independence for Kosovo by Agim Ceku - The Wall Street Journal

Pristina -- Just as it seemed that the Balkans were finally turning the corner, we are instead entering another period of stagnation, delay and uncertainty. A United Nations decision on Kosovo's status, originally expected before the end of this year, has been postponed. The expectations in Kosovo are high. Kosovo is hungry for independence, Kosovo is ready for independence, and now is not the time to stop the clock.

We need to keep the process of statehood on track. Kosovo needs clarity to complete reforms and to attract vital international investments, but also so that our people -- and especially our Serb minority -- can escape the debilitating worries and uncertainty and start to build a future. Their home and future are in Kosovo.

There are two things we must do in Kosovo to succeed as a progressive and a modern independent state. First, we should further improve our institutions to achieve more transparency and a functioning legal system. Second, we need a broad political commitment to development and modernization.

Independence is only the first step and, in itself, is insufficient to provide for Kosovo's future. Kosovo needs a clear perspective for European Union membership. We can only succeed within this framework. This above all means prioritizing economic revitalization in the post-independence period. Nothing short of an economic boom will get us up to speed; the EU train will not wait for Kosovo, or the rest of the region for that matter. The biggest problem in the Western Balkans is economic malaise.

It is the Kosovars, not Belgrade, who have a real interest and stake in seeing Kosovo succeed. Moderate Serbs have long lost interest in Kosovo. Only those desperate for cheap, nationalist rhetorical points claim to care about it. Belgrade offers no vision, no economic or European agenda to the people of Kosovo. Increasing numbers of Serbs, especially those living in Kosovo, are beginning to see beyond this bankrupt world view.

I have no doubt that seeing Kosovo become independent will be a difficult new reality for Serbia. But it is the only way. Belgrade is not interested in investing in the development of Kosovo, and Kosovo is not interested in a political union with Serbia. But we are interested in developing a productive bilateral partnership with Serbia, just as we're doing with our other neighbors.

Social and economic progress in the region will be the big losers if we don't make the bold step forward to independence. The entire Western Balkan region needs a kick start in order to catch the EU train and catch up with the awesome economic growth of our EU-bound neighbors Romania and Bulgaria. This is the only way forward and the only way into the EU. Globalization is a reality which won't pause so we can get ready. The pace is being set in Asia, but transition will have to happen here in the Western Balkans if we wish to compete.

Most of us in the Balkans share a common vision about our future -- we want to get into the EU as fast as possible. The way to do it is through reforms. This wasn't an easy process for the Baltic countries. It wasn't easy for Eastern and Central Europe. And it won't be easy for the Balkan states either. The region needs to find its comparative advantage in Europe and in the global market. It will do so as soon as we settle the final status of Kosovo.

Can Kosovo survive? Sure. If we reform, we'll do very well. My government has adopted a proactive "3E" plan for Kosovo based on energy, economy and education. With large deposits of coal, Kosovo can in a few years become a net electricity exporter. With the right technology we can even do this with an environmental face.

The economy is picking up. There is no currency risk in Kosovo now that we've adopted the euro. We have privatized around 90% of the asset value of all state-owned enterprises. The financial sector has already been privatized, and we are now attracting new investments into the telecom and energy sectors. Much remains to be done, including cleaning up corruption in the courts, but we're on the right track.

We have a young population and a positive birth rate. Given the shortages in the EU labor market due to negative demographic trends, Kosovo can help fill the void. To do so, we need to retrain our work force. Hence we're now investing in education.

The EU is facing a crisis, and it needs time to consolidate and reset its internal political balances. However, this is no reason to lose sight of its strategic goal: a Europe whole and free. Right now this is still not the reality, at least not in the Western Balkans.


Mr. Ceku is the prime minister of Kosovo.


WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 -- The Voice of America issued the following story:

By Barry Wood

As the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo heads for resolution of its uncertain status after seven years as a United Nations protectorate, a U.N. study says the territory should have a multi-ethnic defense force.

Retired British Brigadier General Tony Welch says that, assuming Kosovo becomes independent, it will need a small defense force. General Welch, with long experience in peacekeeping in the Balkans, says it would be a mistake to transform the 5,000 - strong national guard, a former guerrilla force called the Kosovo Protection Corps, into a national army. He says the size of a defense force should be limited.

"We are suggesting no more than 2,500 people in all [to be the national defense force], very small, to be recruited from across the population of Kosovo, with no bars ethnically to anyone, no bars to current members of the Kosovo Protection Corps applying for posts within the defense force, but no right to posts within the defense force," said General Welch.

General Welch says the Kosovo defense force should be trained and equipped by NATO, which is currently responsible for security in Kosovo. Upon creation of a national army, General Welch says, the almost exclusively ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Protection Corps should be disbanded.

The full report on Kosovo's security arrangements will be released in December. Its contents were previewed at a forum hosted by Washington's U.S. Institute of Peace.

Kosovo's former administrator, Soren Jessen-Petersen, a fellow at the institute, says stability in Kosovo and the wider Balkan region is contingent on an early determination of Kosovo's status.

The United Nations envoy in charge of status negotiations is expected to present his report, likely calling for conditional independence, in late January. Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, an outcome rejected by Serbia.

Jessen-Petersen says economic recovery in the province requires clarity on status.

"There are many reasons why we need status [determination]," said Soren Jessen-Petersen. "We need it without any further delay. But, certainly when you look at what are the biggest security concerns - economy and unemployment - they require status. They require clarity. Let us get it done sooner rather than later."

Jessen-Petersen says delay is the greatest threat to regional security. Other participants said Kosovo will be secure only when minority Serbs are secure. A repeat of the anti-Serb riots of 2004, they said, would be disastrous.

Jailed war crimes suspect to top his party's ballot list in Serbia's election

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - Vojislav Seselj, a war crimes suspect charged with being part of a plot to murder, torture and expel non-Serbs during the 1990s Balkans wars, will top his party's ballot list in Serbia's upcoming general elections, his aide said Monday.

Seselj is currently in jail in the Netherlands awaiting the start of his trial by the Hague-based U.N. war crimes tribunal. He is first on the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party's list of candidates in the Jan. 21 parliamentary vote, the party's campaign chief Dragan Todorovic told the state Tanjug news agency.

Seselj's placement at the top of the ticket practically guarantees him a seat in Serbia's next parliament after the elections. His party's ballot list will be called "the Serbian Radical Party -Vojislav Seselj," Todorovic said.

Seselj ruled Serbia with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during the Balkan wars. His extremist party holds 80 seats in Serbia's 250-seat assembly and will be the chief challenger to several pro-democratic groups.

Seselj's party, which he heads from jail in the Netherlands, said he started a hunger strike last week demanding the tribunal grant him free choice of legal advisers, unrestricted spousal visits and an unconditional right to conduct his own defense.

He has lost 11 kilograms (24 pounds) since starting the hunger strike, the Radical Party said in a statement Monday, adding that Seselj "was aware of the (health) risks ... but will not give up" his demands and will continue refusing to be examined by physicians at the detention facility.

Seselj has pleaded innocent to nine charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly being part of a criminal plot to murder, torture and illegally imprison non-Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

His trial is scheduled to start Nov. 27. He voluntarily turned himself in to The Hague tribunal in 2003.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No More Delays for Kosovo - The New York Times

For the past seven years, the tiny Balkan region of Kosovo has been in limbo. Administered by the United Nations, it is not an independent state. But it is no longer a province of Serbia. That ended after Serbia’s rulers tried to kill or drive out Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians — and NATO went to war to save them.

Limbos are not stable. And the U.N. mediator in talks on the region, Martti Ahtisaari, was expected to announce by the end of this year that it was time to start Kosovo on the path to closely monitored independence. Instead, he put off the decision until after Serbia’s parliamentary elections — scheduled for January — for fear of bolstering Serbian ultranationalists. This postponement, only the most recent of many, should be the last.

After the 1999 war there has never been a realistic possibility of rejoining Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo was supposed to earn independence by proving its willingness to govern responsibly and to protect its ethnic Serb minority. A lot more needs to be done on both those fronts.

But the United Nations has limited patience to keep administering Kosovo, and without the stability of statehood there will be no foreign investment and the beleaguered economy will not improve. Lack of economic prospects is feeding Albanian nationalism, and until Kosovo’s status is settled, anger will remain close to the surface.

Even as it moves Kosovo toward statehood, the U.N. should keep a substantial military and advisory presence there, both to ensure the rights of the Serb minority and to encourage democratic development.

Belgrade will always object to Kosovo’s independence. The best chance of moderating its reaction is the promise of eventual membership in the European Union and a clear warning that Europe will be watching how it treats its new neighbor. The Kosovars should be clear that donors and everyone else will be watching just as closely to see how they treat their own Kosovar Serbs.

Kosovo must not 'drag down' EU aspirant Serbia: Swedish FM

The question of Kosovo's future status must not be allowed to harm Serbia in its bid to join the European Union, visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Thursday."The issue of Kosovo should not be allowed to drag Serbia down, Serbia should move forward to join the rest of the European countries," Bildt said after talks with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.Bildt said the solution for the future status of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo should be "sustainable" and "in the interest of the entire region".Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of its population, are calling for independence but Belgrade has only offered the southern province wide-ranging autonomy.Draskovic himself warned that the possible independence of Kosovo could destabilise Serbia as well as the whole Balkan region, and insisted that Belgrade and Pristina's rival stances were not irreconcilable."It is necessary to bridge Serbia's legitimate request not to breach its territorial integrity and fulfill justified and legitimate demands by (Kosovo) Albanians," Draskovic told reporters."But I will never consider legitimate a demand to create another Albanian state in the Balkans," said Draskovic.Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign ended a crackdown by Belgrade forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. It is still technically a part of Serbia.The UN's top Kosovo mediator, Martti Ahtisaari, said last week he would wait to reveal his plans for the future of the province until after Serbian general elections on January 21, delaying the previous end-of-year deadline.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

UN readies Kosovo exit stragegy

The United Nations said Wednesday it has started planning its strategy to exit Kosovo as a decision nears on the future status of the ethnic-Albanian majority province.The UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) said the measures it was planning would ensure "a smooth and orderly transition" of its responsibilities to international institutions and local authorities."The joint international and local planning work now under way is essential to prepare" for the transition to the future authorities in Kosovo, UNMIK spokesman Neeraj Singh told reporters."Prudent, responsible planning for the transition will now intensify through a series of working groups that will be formed in areas including civil administration, economy, property, governance, security, legal transition, budget and rule of law," he said.Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since mid-1999, after a NATO bombing campaign ousted Serbian forces from the province because of a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanians.Still formally a part of Serbia, its future status had been due to be resolved by the end of the year but last week was delayed until after Serbian elections on January 21.The United Nations has come under strong criticism for its heavily bureaucratic administration in Kosovo, which is estimated to have cost around 1.3 billion dollars a year.A European Union-led team of diplomats told AFP earlier this month that it had already begun planning the future role for the international community in Kosovo.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Poland backs 'free and independent' Kosovo: Albanian president

Poland backs a "free and independent" Kosovo, Albanian President Albert Moisiu said Tuesday following a meeting with his Polish opposite number Lech Kaczynski."I was pleased to hear that President Kaczynski, Poland and the Polish nation are ready to support us in favour of stability in the Balkans, and for the freedom and independence of Kosovo," Moisiu told reporters during a joint press conference with Kaczynski.Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the small Serbian province's population, are demanding independence while Serbia is only prepared to grant the UN-administered region autonomy.The province has been run by a UN mission since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign ended a crackdown in Kosovo by Belgrade.On Monday, European Union policy chief Javier Solana had said that a decision on the status of Kosovo should be delayed until after Serbia held legislative elections in January, to take the wind out the sails of Serbian hardliners.The Serbian parliament last week passed a new constitution -- backed by voters in a referendum -- that defines the province as an "integral" part of Serbia, but a final UN proposal is expected to grant Kosovo sovereignty.Kaczynski said that Albania played a "stablising role" in the troubled Balkan region and seemed "close" to joining NATO."But the road to European Union membership seems more difficult," he said, although he reaffirmed Poland's support of an "open-door" policy for potential new members of the 25-nation European bloc.Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004, after more than a decade of preparations following the collapse of communist rule.

Albania says postponing resolution of Kosovo's status threatens regional stability

Postponing a resolution of Kosovo's future status could threaten regional stability, the Albanian prime minister said Tuesday, while urging Kosovo Albanians to support their negotiating team.The U.N.'s special enjoy for Kosovo said Friday he would delay issuing a report on the province's future until after Serbia held elections in January.Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that could cause trouble. "Further postponement of Kosovo's final status at this delicate moment complicates the situation, stability in Kosovo and the region," he said. Negotiators initially had hoped to resolve the issue by the end of this year.Albania has been the strongest supporter of independence for Kosovo, demanded by the province's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of its population.Serbia wants to keep at least some control over the province, and last month approved adopting a new constitution declaring Kosovo an integral part of its territory.Albania has said Serbia's new constitutional claim over Kosovo was unacceptable, and Berisha dismissed the Serbian referendum again Tuesday, telling reporters that "independent, free and democratic Kosovo is the condition for peace and stability" in both the province and the region.Berisha also appealed to the six-nation Contact Group participating in status talks, as well as the European Union, to rule out any change to Kosovo's borders, which he said "would encourage adventurers and demons of all Balkan nationalisms to ... turn the Balkans back to its darkest times."Kosovo Albanians should support their political leadership, which he said had "decisively protected Kosovo citizens' European national interests."Since the end of the war between Serb military forces and separatists in the southern province in 1999, the predominantly ethnic Albanian territory has been run by a U.N. administration and patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How did Ahtisaari and CG decide to postpone status solution (Zëri)

In a font-page editorial, Zëri quotes diplomatic sources saying that the final text of Ahtisaari’s statement took a long negotiating time between the Contact Group members and President Ahtisaari. The sources said that CG and Ahtisaari were found in a fait accompli situation with elections taking place in Serbia and with the current Government in Belgrade not presenting a negotiation party any longer.

The sources said that Ahtisaari and the three members of the Contact Group that support a fast solution to the Kosovo status (USA, UK and France) managed to limit the postponements of status decision for a shorter period of time after the elections on 21 January as opposed to a longer timeframe that Moscow and Belgrade insisted on.

The paper says if Ahtisaari’s statement is translated into concrete terms, it will mean that UN Status Envoy will present his proposal to Pristina and Belgrade on February and that the status of Kosovo could be known by March of 2007. “It turns out that March will again be decisive for the fate of Kosovo,” the paper writes.

Independence in the beginning of 2007 (Dailies)

Express writes that Ahtisaari has postponed the process of Kosovo status for March. “Perhaps this will be the first March in recent decades that will bring something good for the Kosovars. So far, it has only carried its symbolic – war,” the paper writes. It also says that the delay does not damage anything else apart from the credibility of the Kosovo Negotiations Team.

Recalling the statement issued by President Ahtisaari on the conclusion of the Contact Group meeting where he said that he will present his proposal “for the settlement of Kosovo status to the parties without delay after the parliamentary elections in Serbia”, Express notes that Ahtisaari does not specify the date when he will deliver his proposal. “It is also not clear whether Ahtisaari will deliver the proposal to the current government in Belgrade or will wait for the constitution of the new government following elections there,” the paper writes.

Zëri quotes UNOSEK Spokeswoman Hua Jiang saying that presentation of President Ahtisaari’s proposals will not be delayed after elections in Serbia but adds that she did not explain the reasons behind the decision. Jiang said Ahtisaari does not mention a precise date for the presentation but added that this will be done without delays.

Decision on Kosovan independence to be postponed: Delay prompted by fears over Serbian nationalism Proposal to be announced after Belgrade elections


LENGTH: 383 words

The international powers have put off deciding to impose independence on Kosovo in an attempt to forestall extreme nationalists coming to power in Serbia.Serbia yesterday announced early elections for January 21, with the extreme nationalist Radical party tipped to emerge as the strongest party. Simultaneously in Vienna, the UN envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, and diplomats from the US, Europe and Russia went back on earlier pledges to resolve Kosovo's status this year. They said they would wait until after the Serbian ballot before making public their recommendations.Kosovo, which has an Albanian majority, is formally part of Serbia but won an independence war in 1999 when the Serbian authorities were driven out by Nato. Since then it has been under UN control.Mr Ahtisaari has been negotiating with the Serbs and Albanians since February in a vain attempt to find a settlement. Since there is no prospect of agreement, he is to propose to the UN security council that the international community impose his recommendations. "I have decided to present my proposal for the settlement of Kosovo's status to the parties without delay after parliamentary elections in Serbia," Mr Ahtisaari said in Vienna.Serbian officials have been trying to delay a decision on Kosovo and are waging a ferocious campaign warning of the risks to international stability of an independent Kosovo. Last month the prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, rushed through a new constitution proclaiming Kosovo forever part of Serbia. The Kosovo issue will dominate the election campaign.In a study of the new constitution this week, the International Crisis Group thinktank said that Serbia was turning its back on mainstream liberal democracy in Europe and reverting to a role as a nationalist, authoritarian seat of instability in the Balkans.Mr Ahtisaari, strongly backed by the US and Britain, is certain to recommend that Serbia lose Kosovo, although the province's independence will be hedged with conditions that fall short of full sovereignty for some time to come. Tensions are rising as the deadline for a decision nears. Any longer postponement risks an explosion of frustration among Kosovo's two million Albanians.Ethnic Albanians in Pristina, Kosovo's capital. Kosovo has an Albanian majority

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kosovo PM prepared to declare independence unilaterally

Kosovo could unilaterally declare independence if talks with Belgrade fail to answer the demands of its ethnic Albanian majority, the prime minister of the Serbian province said Thursday."This is not a threat. We see this as a possibility. Kosovo will certainly be an independent country," prime minister Agim Ceku told reporters."Of course, we prefer this to happen through a resolution of the (UN) Security Council, which will have a wide support," Ceku added.The negotiations on the future status of the southern Serbian province, administered by the United Nations since June 1999, began in February under the auspices of the UN.Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up around 90 percent of the province's two million population, are seeking independence from Serbia.But the government in Belgrade and Kosovo's Serb minority insist the province -- which they consider the cradle of Serbian culture and history -- should only be granted greater autonomy.Meanwhile, Ceku's deputy Lutfi Haziri, together with opposition leader Veton Surroi, visited the Serb-populated enclave of Gracanica near the capital Pristina, in a bid to convince Kosovo Serbs to accept the government's option for Kosovo's future status.Haziri presented the plan to form a new municipality that would group Gracanica and all villages around it, with some 18,000 inhabitants."Kosovo Serbs will have competencies in the departments of healthcare, education, public services, infrastructure, culture and sport," Haziri told a small audience of several dozen Serbs.Most of some 6,000 Serbs living in Gracanica, about eight kilometers (five miles) southeast of Pristina, have boycotted ethnic Albanian officials.Randjel Nojkic, a local Serb representative, said it was "too late" to hold such meetings between ethnic Albanian officials and the Serbs."Serbs do not have confidence in Kosovo institutions," he said.Serbs also protested over the government's move to shut down transmitters for two Serbian mobile phone providers, located in Gracanica and other Serb-populated enclaves, saying they were set up illegally."How can you believe their promises for our bright future in independent Kosovo, when they remove these antennas that are our only connection with Serbia," said revolted Nada Vojicic, 46-year-old housewife.Since 1999, some 200,000 Serbs have fled the province fearing attacks from ethnic Albanian hardliners. Those who have remained live in enclaves under heavy protection from NATO troops.On Thursday, a 53-year-old Serb was wounded in his house in the village of Letnica in eastern Kosovo.Police arrested three ethnic Albanian suspects. Two were released after questioning, but the third remains in detention.Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign halted a crackdown by Serbian forces against independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

EU urges Serbia to cooperate with U.N. effort to resolve status for Kosovo

The European Union urged Serbia on Wednesday to "take a constructive approach" in negotiating the future of its breakaway Kosovo province and said it must cooperate with the U.N.'s war crimes tribunal if it wants closer ties with the EU.Serbia and its Balkan neighbors must also do more to tackle corruption and step up political and reforms needed to prepare them for eventual EU membership, according to the EU's annual progress reports on the prospects of would-be EU members."I trust that Serbian citizens as well as political leaders now focus less on the nationalist past and more on the European future, that's best for Serbia, that's best for the western Balkans," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters after the release of the EU reports."On Kosovo, we expect Serbia to take a constructive approach," he added.The EU's report on Serbia reiterated that steps toward eventual membership were suspended until Serbia proves it is fully cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal and hands over top war crimes suspect Gen. Ratko Mladic.The report said the EU was also concerned over Serbia's new constitution, warning it did not fully guarantee judges' independence. It also called on Belgrade to intensify its fight against corruption and ensure full civilian control over its armed forces.On Kosovo, the EU report acknowledged that the focus on the sensitive status negotiations led by the U.N. "has delayed significant reform efforts."It said the province's administration "remains weak, affecting the rule of law," adding that judicial bodies there have made "little progress" in civil and criminal justice.Separate reports were also released on Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania.On Croatia already opened entry talks with the EU last year and hopes to join in 2009. However, the report said there was "considerable scope" for improving the nation's judicial system and its fight against corruption. It also called on Zagreb to ensure better protection of minorities and to solve its border dispute with EU member Slovenia.Croatia's President Stipe Mesic said the critical report on his country showed it had to follow through on reforms. "It is easy to pass the laws, but it is much harder to implement them," he said in Zagreb. "It all depends on us."The EU warned Macedonia over its problems with corruption. It said reforms must go faster, if wants to get a starting date for membership talks.

Kosovo's future status must be made clear: EU commissioner


Kosovo's future status should be legally and politically clear so the separatist Serbian region can sign agreements with the European Union, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Wednesday."The precise contents and concept of the future status should be legally and politically a clear status so that Kosovo would have especially treaty-making powers, for instance, with the EU," Rehn said.Such an outcome would allow the EU and Kosovo to negotiate a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step to EU membership, he told reporters after the publication of annual reports on EU membership hopefuls.It would also allow for EU-Kosovo negotiations on visa agreements.A status settlement "will give further impetus for the Kosovo authorities to progress on the reforms that are needed in the key areas of the rule of law, economy, and public administration," the Commission said in its report."Minority rights remain a vital issue, as is the participation of minorities in Kosovo's institutions," it added.Serbia has its own SAA agreement with the EU but it has been frozen until Belgrade improves its cooperation with the United Nations war crimes court.The UN's special envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish leader Martti Ahtisaari, has been in negotiations with Serb and Kosovo officials in a bid to define the status of the breakaway province, inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians.Ahtisaari is expected, before the end of the year, to present the UN with recommendations on Kosovo's future, after eight months of talks faltered between the Serbian government and leaders of the province's ethnic-Albanian majority.Media reports have suggested that he will propose offering limited sovereignty.However UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a newspaper interview over the weekend that the talks on the future of Kosovo could drag on into 2007."Ahtisaari must be careful that the issue of the final status of Kosovo is not used for electoral purposes," Annan said, referring to the Serbian government's plan to hold an early general election in December.And on Monday the United States indicated it would agree to pushing back the end-of-year deadline.The Serbian government opposed independence for Kosovo and recently called on Ahtisaari to stand down, accusing him of seeking to impose a predetermined solution before the end of negotiations.Kosovo has been managed by the UN since 1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign halted a crackdown by Serbian forces against Kosovo's separatist Albanian rebels.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

UN Administrator Dismisses Fears Northern Kosovo Will Secede

A NATO peacekeeper

The status of conflict-riven Kosovo, the UN-administered Serbian province that is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, is being considered by an international envoy who has spent nearly a year searching in vain for common ground between Serbs and Albanians. VOA's Barry Wood visited the northern city of Mitrovica, home to many of the remaining 120,000 Serbs who comprise a small minority of Kosovo's population.

Kosovo is quiet now but NATO-led peacekeepers are on guard against any recurrence of the kind of anti-Serb riots that erupted in 2004. Kosovo's status could be decided shortly. Ethnic Albanians demand independence, Serbs oppose it.

Nowhere is mistrust and ethnic separation deeper than in decaying Mitrovica, a once flourishing mining center now divided by the Ibar River into a Serbian north and an Albanian south.

Jeta Xharra is a journalist and filmmaker, part of a team that produced an acclaimed video ("Does Any Body Have a Plan?") on Kosovo's future.

Jeta Xharra
"The worst case scenario is that the north is so upset--whatever the solution. If Kosovo is declared independent, the north (could) declare itself independent. That's the worst case scenario."

About half of Kosovo's Serbs--and only a few Albanians--live in north Mitrovica and the wide strip of territory that leads up to the Serbian border. The UN rejects any partition and yet it is very much in the minds of the local population.

Gerard Gallucci, the UN administrator of Mitrovica, says partition won't happen. "I don't think there is any real prospect of that. I don't think anyone wants it. I don't think the Serb leadership wants it. I know the Kosovo Albanian leadership doesn't want it."

Gerard Gallucci
Gallucci admits that ethnic reconciliation is a long way off. But he's hopeful that Serbs and Albanians can cooperate on practical matters like municipal services. He supports decentralized local government as a means of building trust. "Decentralization simply means strong local rule in areas in which local people want to control their own lives, whether they're Serb or Albanian. I don't think anyone is explaining that to anybody, unfortunately, here in Kosovo."

Gallucci complains that because there has been little public education on the issue, many Albanians are suspicious that decentralization is a code word for partition.

Ethnic Albanian filmmaker Jeta Xharra supports decentralization and says that for Serbs to feel secure they need an urban center like north Mitrovica.

"Of course, it is sad that Serbs can't come to all the urban centers where they used to be, but unfortunately the reality is such that northern Kosovo is going to remain a largely Serb inhabited urban center," says Xharra.

For now Mitrovica and its bridge over the Ibar remain symbols of division and uncertainty. Serbs to the north, ethnic Albanian on the south, with UN police keeping the peace.

Montenegro's PM Rejects Serb Criticism Of Kosovo Meeting

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP)--Montenegro's government leader Tuesday rejected Serbia's criticism about his recent meeting with the separatist leader of Kosovo, the breakaway province whose future status is being discussed in U.N.- mediated talks.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said he saw no problem in meeting last week with Agim Ceku, the ethnic Albanian leader of Kosovo, which has been an international protectorate since the 1998-99 war there between Serb troops and the separatist rebels.

"I absolutely reject any objections from Serbia concerning Ceku's visit...we did not discuss Kosovo's future status," said Djukanovic, following accusations by Serbian officials that receiving Ceku was a "stab in the back" to Serbia's efforts to prevent Kosovo's secession.

Serbia's leadership has said that accepting Ceku as a visiting statesman meant Montenegro's readiness to recognize Kosovo as a state.

Talks over Kosovo's future are under way under the auspices of the U.N., Western powers and Russia. The province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999 when the alliance's bombing forced Serbs to halt their crackdown on the separatists and pull out.

The crackdown was led by former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who was toppled in 2000 by pro-democracy politicians. The new leadership contends that, despite Milosevic's devastating brutality in Kosovo, Serbs cannot give up completely on the southern province, considered Serbia's historic heartland.

"It's an inertia of old, failed policies," Djukanovic said about the comments from Belgrade. "Whatever Kosovo becomes in the future, it borders Montenegro" and needs good relations with neighbors.

Montenegro itself declared independence from Serbia earlier this year. Belgrade did not contest that move because Montenegro was a partner republic from the old Yugoslav federation, but insists that Kosovo is not entitled to the same.

Ceku declared after his Friday meeting with Djukanovic that Kosovo would follow in Montenegro's steps.

Djukanovic himself is expected to step down as Montenegro's prime minister Wednesday.

His Democratic Party of Socialists triumphed in recent elections, but Djukanovic -for years the most powerful figure in Montenegro -said he would not seek a third term and has hand-picked a trusted aide, Justice Minister Zeljko Sturanovic, as his successor.


Text of report by Montenegrin Mina news agencyPodgorica, 7 November: A visit to Montenegro by the prime minister of the Kosovo provisional government, Agim Ceku, was a natural and positive move, which was carefully considered by the Montenegrin government.The non-residential UK ambassador in Montenegro, David Gowen, expressed this view in his talks with [outgoing] Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.He went on to say that Montenegro had previously played a significant role regarding regional stability.Gowan praised the government and other institutions on their success in resolving issues relating to internal developments and efforts to join the Euro-Atlantic family, a statement by the government said.He added the door is open for Montenegro joining these integration processes and that the country can count on strong support from the United Kingdom.Djukanovic said that the British government's swift recognition of Montenegro's independence and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries at ambassadorial level served as the founding blacks for strengthening ties.The prime minister said that in the coming period the Montenegrin government would continue to focus on strengthening political stability and developing a multiethnic and democratic society, economic growth and further strengthening of macroeconomic stability.Source: Mina news agency, Podgorica, in Serbian 1648 gmt 7 Nov 06

Kosovo issue sours relations between Serbia and Montenegro

Montenegro's government leader on Tuesday rejected Serbia's criticism about his recent meeting with the separatist leader of Kosovo, the breakaway province whose future status is being discussed in U.N.-mediated talks.Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said he saw no problem in meeting last week with Agim Ceku, the ethnic Albanian leader of Kosovo, which has been an international protectorate since the 1998-99 war there between Serb troops and the separatist rebels."I absolutely reject any objections from Serbia concerning Ceku's visit ... we did not discuss Kosovo's future status," said Djukanovic, following accusations by Serbian officials that receiving Ceku was a "stab in the back" to Serbia's efforts to prevent Kosovo's secession.Serbia's leadership has said that accepting Ceku as a visiting statesman meant Montenegro's readiness to recognize Kosovo as a state.Talks over Kosovo's future are under way under the auspices of the U.N., Western powers and Russia. The province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999 when the alliance's bombing forced Serbs to halt their crackdown on the separatists and pull out.The crackdown was led by former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who was toppled in 2000 by pro-democracy politicians. The new leadership contends that, despite Milosevic's devastating brutality in Kosovo, Serbs cannot give up completely on the southern province, considered Serbia's historic heartland."It's an inertia of old, failed policies," Djukanovic said about the comments from Belgrade. "Whatever Kosovo becomes in the future, it borders Montenegro" and needs good relations with neighbors.Montenegro itself declared independence from Serbia earlier this year. Belgrade did not contest that move because Montenegro was a partner republic from the old Yugoslav federation, but insists that Kosovo is not entitled to same.Ceku declared after his Friday meeting with Djukanovic that Kosovo would follow in Montenegro's steps.Djukanovic himself is expected to step down as Montenegro's prime minister on Wednesday.His Democratic Party of Socialists triumphed in recent elections, but Djukanovic for years the most powerful figure in Montenegro said he would not seek a third term and has hand-picked a trusted aide, Justice Minister Zeljko Sturanovic, as his successor.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)

Recent developments in Serbia, the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo continue to stand as barriers to Serbia's joining the European Union and reaping for its people the economic benefits of that partnership.Two votes last month highlighted the problem. The first, general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina Oct. 1, including the election of the Serb, Muslim and Croat presidents who together make up the country's presidency, showed continued loyalty on the part of the three groups to nationalist, separatist representatives. The Serb president, Nebojsa Radmanovic, and his party oppose the abolition of the political divisions incorporated in the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is generally considered that the EU would be reluctant to move toward membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina with the current divisions intact.The second vote was an Oct. 29 referendum on Serbia's new constitution, which includes an assertion that Kosovo is an "integral part of Serbia." The referendum was approved by 96 percent of the voters.The problem is that the United Nations, which has governed Kosovo since 1999, wants to unload it to the EU by the end of the year. The United States currently has 1,000 troops in Kosovo.A solution would involve granting Kosovo independence, or some form of self-government, perhaps with continued international oversight. The new arrangement would be dominated by the 90 percent of the people who are Albanian, but the rights of the Serbs -- who account for less than 10 percent -- will need to be guaranteed. The restatement of Kosovo's status in the new Serbian constitution obviously doesn't help.Serbian resistance to change in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, in addition to its refusal to turn over two prominent former Bosnian Serb leaders to international authorities for trial, continues to be a barrier to Serbia's progress toward adherence to the EU as well.Serbia can be respected for its independence, but its approach to the problems of the region does not seem to be in its people's best interests.

Dealing With Serbia; Kosovo may soon become Europe's newest independent nation. But it will be a painful birth, especially in Belgrade.

BYLINE: By Michael Meyer


LENGTH: 681 words

Serbia is crafting a new constitution, and a troubling document it is. The preamble establishes Cyrillic as the nation's official alphabet, notwithstanding substantial minorities of Albanians, Hungarians and Muslims. It declares that "Serbia is the homeland of the Serbs," an eerie echo of the ethnic nationalism that brought the former Yugoslavia to grief. Most unsettling, it claims Kosovo as a "constituent part of Serbia's territory," never to be relinquished.And yet, Belgrade clearly does not want most of the people living there. The electoral list of citizens eligible to vote in a popular referendum on the document, last weekend, excluded all the province's majority Albanians. Meanwhile, the otherwise relatively liberal government in Belgrade has been indulging in some veiled military swagger, darkly asserting its right to "defend its borders," presumably with force, wherever they might lie--even as it professed no desire to actually control Kosovo itself.Is another Balkan crisis brewing? Will Serbia trip yet again on its long, slow slog toward Europe? No. What's playing out is a delicate political game, complicated by an explosion of classic Serbian schizophrenia. U.N. negotiations on the future of Kosovo, wrapping up in Vienna, will soon recommend some form of independence. It's not "if" but "when," says Daniel Serwer at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. "The big question is how to get the Serbs to accept it." Insiders at the talks originally expected the U.N. Security Council to seal their verdict by the end of the year, despite Russian resistance. But last week, top U.S. and European diplomats were in Pristina, the Kosovar capital, telling Albanians that they might have to wait a bit. Serbia, they explained, needs more time to get its collective head around the divorce.A recent poll by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy in Belgrade tells why. According to its numbers, 58 percent of Serbs want to hold on to Kosovo--even though only 12 percent believe they can. Political leaders also see the handwriting on the wall. Rationally, they know Kosovo is long gone. Politically, they don't want to be tarred forever in the country's notoriously obsessive historical consciousness as the ones who "lost Kosovo. "They want the decision to be imposed on them," says a U.S. diplomat close to the negotiations.But not too fast. National elections look likely to be called in December or early next year. Publicly, moderate political leaders, including Serbian President Boris Tadic, oppose Kosovo's independence and extol the new constitution as an emphatic vote against it. Privately, many of these same politicians are prepared to accept it as the price of Serbia's eventual integration into the European Union. But if independence comes too quickly, they fear, it will play to the electoral advantage of their more extremist opponents--specifically the Serbian Radical Party of indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselji, who would not think twice about wrenching the nation from its tentatively westward path.In this stage-battle for public perception, Serbia's moderates play King Canutes, sweeping back a rising tide, the new constitution as their broom. Those looking on from outside should not be alarmed. That malodorous preamble will be snuffed out as soon as Kosovo is cut loose. Meanwhile, it's Serbia's safety valve. This is not to say there's no real danger. Were power to indeed shift toward Serbia's radicals, the play-acting could turn genuinely ugly. Serbia might well be caught up in another irredentist, nationalist surge.It's also possible the international community will blow it. If negotiators recommend full and internationally recognized independence, the question is whether the Russians can be persuaded to put forgo a veto in the Security Council. Or the United Nations may well opt for something less: an end to its protectorate, say, leaving Kosovo to seek international recognition on its own. In that case, warns Serwer, "Kosovo could end up in limbo." That would do no one any good--Kosovo, Serbia or the West.


Text of report by Kosovo Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore on 5 NovemberPrishtina [Pristina], 4 November: The Serbian government's reaction to Kosova [Kosovo] Prime Minister Agim Ceku's visit to Montenegro is a provocation by this government toward Kosova, Kosova government spokeswoman Ulpiana Lama said on Saturday [4 November].In her view, the Serbian Government's reaction is interference in relations between two neighbouring countries and the Serbian Government cannot react in this fashion.She added, "Serbia's position on neighbouring countries' relations with Kosova should change. It should change its policies by accepting the new reality created in the Balkans, just like all the other countries, which have accepted this reality; even though Serbia is the last one, it is better late than never," Lama said.Source: Koha Ditore, Pristina, in Albanian 5 Nov 06

Kosovo's Ceku meets Slovak foreign minister, demands independence

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian prime minister Agim Ceku said on Monday that his U.N.-run province will soon become independent from Serbia."Kosovo's virtual independence is a fact ... we would however, prefer a U.N. resolution about that," said Ceku, a former rebel commander, after meeting Slovak Foreign Minister Jan Kubis.Ceku asked Slovakia to back Kosovo's independence. "Kosovo's independence must be achieved as soon as possible," he said. Ceku offered guarantees for the rights of ethnic minorities, including Serbs.Kubis has said that Slovakia will not take a view until Maarti Ahtisaari, the United Nations-appointed mediator for the Kosovo talks, presents his proposals on Kosovo's status.The talks are deadlocked but Ahtisaari must submit his recommendations on Kosovo's future to the U.N. Security Council before the end of 2006.Kosovo's majority Albanians want the province to become an independent state while the minority Serbs want it to remain part of Serbia. Last month, voters in Serbia endorsed a new constitution that reasserts that the province is an integral part of the country.Last week, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said he was against Kosovo's independence as it could spark regional tension and serve as a bad example for countries which might want to solve their problems in a similar way.Kosovo has been under U.N. administration an NATO protection since U.S.-led bombing halted a Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.

Serbia tells Kosovo talks envoy to resign

Belgrade on Monday told the United Nations envoy to Kosovo talks to resign, accusing him of bias against Serbia in negotiations on the future status of the disputed province."It would be best if (Martti) Ahtisaari resigned on his own because he has failed to organise serious talks and achieve a compromise," the independent FoNet news agency quoted government spokesman Srdjan Djuric as saying.Djuric accused Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, of trying to control the talks and impose a solution that he had come up with before they began in February."Ahtisaari was certainly not given a mandate to secretly write with Albanians any paper on Kosovo, so it has been a failure in advance," Djuric said of the negotiations.Kosovo is formally still a part of Serbia but has been administered by the UN for the past seven years. Its ethnic Albanian majority wants independence but Serbia is not prepared to allow this."It is high time that Ahtisaari leaves this job to a new international mediator, who would stick to the UN Charter and international law from the beginning," Djuric said.Simultaneously, the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team said there was no reason to continue direct talks with Belgrade because they had failed so far."The Unity Team is convinced that the talks with Belgrade cannot bring any outcome. Thus the team is of the opinion that it is absolutely profitless... to even think of continuing the negotiations," said spokesman Skender Hyseni.Hyseni told reporters the team was "ready to continue contacts and partnership with the international community untill the (decision on final) status is completed".Ahtisaari said in October that eight months of negotiations between Belgrade and the leaders of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority had led nowhere and suggested a deal be imposed.He is expected on Friday to present his recommendations to the Contact Group of six powerful nations overseeing peace in the Balkans.A Kosovo newspaper reported last week that Ahtisaari had proposed offering "limited sovereignty" to the ethnic Albanians, who comprise around 90 percent of the province's two million population.Kosovo has been managed by the UN since 1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign halted a crackdown by Serbian forces against Kosovo's separatist Albanian rebels.Kosovo has been in limbo ever since. Its future status was set to be resolved by the year's end. But a decision could be delayed because of an expected Serbian general election in December.Speaking during a visit the Slovakian capital Bratislava on Monday, Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian prime minister, Agim Ceku, urged the international community not to delay its decision on the province's status."One of the messages we brought here (to) Bratislava... is the necessity to avoid a delay. I think delay will not bring any benefits to anyone. Ahtisaari is ready. He has prepared his package, his proposals," Ceku said. "We hope that a decision will be taken before February."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Independence days - The future of Kosovo

(c) The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2006. All rights reserved
A Serbian province looks to independence

An independent Kosovo is coming. The question is how best to achieve it

THE shabby manoeuvring that triggered first war and then the break-up of Yugoslavia began in Kosovo in 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic scrapped the Serbian province's autonomous status. Now the Balkans have turned full circle, back to negotiations over Kosovo's final status. But this time there is no doubt as to the result: independence from Serbia.

Kosovo is an emotional matter for Serbs. It lay at the heart of their medieval empire, it is where they lost a battle in 1389 that led to 500 years of Ottoman rule and it has some of their main religious sites. It is a Serbian province, not an ex-Yugoslav republic like Macedonia or Montenegro. Yet since NATO's war with Serbia in 1999, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations, not Belgrade. Over 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who will settle for nothing short of independence.

This remains true despite the recent noisy (if narrow) approval of a new constitution for Serbia reaffirming Kosovo as an integral part of the country. The constitution and the election that will follow, probably in December, are mere delaying tactics by a Serbian government that is not ready to take the blame for “losing Kosovo”. The issue for the UN envoy overseeing the negotiations, Martti Ahtisaari, is whether conditions can be attached to independence to make it more palatable to Serbia (see page 45).

One such must clearly be the guaranteed protection of all ethnic minorities in Kosovo, especially the 100,000 or so Serbs who remain. That will require local autonomy to be given to municipalities, including Serb ones, which may necessitate redrawing boundaries; and full protection of Serbian religious sites. Another condition may be stopping Kosovo uniting with neighbours (eg, Albania). All this means keeping NATO troops and international observers in Kosovo, even after independence. Other possibilities—partitioning off the Serb-dominated bit of north Kosovo, refusing to let Kosovo join the United Nations—are unlikely to make anyone happier.

Nasty side effects

In short, it seems unlikely that any way can be found of dressing up Kosovo's independence to make it more acceptable to Belgrade. A conditional independence may thus have to be imposed internationally. Russia could block formal approval of this by the UN Security Council, so it may be up to individual countries to choose whether to recognise Kosovo. Most will surely do so, leaving non-recognisers (including Serbia) to follow later. Indeed, some Serbian leaders might welcome such an outcome, since it would show that they had done their utmost to obstruct Kosovo's independence.

Independence without Belgrade's consent may be regrettable, but it is better than denying it altogether, since this would only lead to renewed fighting. Yet it carries two big dangers. The first is of leaving Serbia, the biggest country in the region, in a disgruntled, nationalistic grump. A resentful Serbia may be unable to start another war, but it could still cause trouble across the Balkans. The way to avoid this is for the European Union to lure Serbia back onto the path towards accession negotiations, which it will also be doing for Kosovo. Indeed, it is the EU, not the UN or NATO, that must now play the decisive role. That will take money, but ultimately it also means taking in the western Balkan countries as members.

The second danger is of setting an awkward precedent. Leaders of the (Bosnian Serb) Republika Srpska already ask why, if Montenegro and Kosovo can be independent, they cannot be. Russia mutters menacingly about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two enclaves in Georgia, and Transdniestria, in Moldova (though it keeps strangely quiet over Chechnya). But parallels between countries and ethnic groups rarely hold. Few people have been as attacked and oppressed as the Kosovars. Nor should “ethnic cleansing” be rewarded, which it would be in an independent Bosnian Serb republic or Abkhazia. Kosovo's loss of autonomy started the Balkan wars; its independence may, with luck, end them.

German court rejects Serb claim over NATO attack

(Adds Amnesty comment paragraphs 11-12)

BERLIN, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Germany's highest appeals court on Thursday rejected a claim by a group of Serbs for compensation from Germany for NATO air strikes in 1999 which killed 10 Serbian villagers and injured 30.

The court said German law made no provision for compensation between a state and individual people, only between states, and noted that German aircraft did not take part in the attack.

"There is no breach of conduct by German soldiers or authorities because German planes were not directly involved in the attack," the court said in a statement.

The attack took place on May 30, 1999 in the village of Varvarin in central Serbia. NATO bombers struck a bridge over the river Morava while local people were celebrating an Orthodox Christian holiday.

Most of the dead were killed in a second strike a few minutes later while they were trying to give first aid to victims of the initial attack.

In 1999, NATO operations drove Serb forces out of Kosovo, a Serbian province with a mostly ethnic Albanian population.

The 35 Serbs who brought the case against NATO member Germany and claimed between them about 530,000 euros ($675,000) argued that Germany could have used its veto on NATO attacks on what was a civilian target with no military significance.

Unable to take action against NATO as a whole, they brought the case against Germany mainly because it was where they found financial backing, a campaigner said.

"This is a case against Germany in the sense that it is a member of NATO. We wanted to bring a case in the United States but could not find the money to do so," Gordana Milanovic of the NATO-War Victims Claim Compensation Project told Reuters.

She said interest in Germany was aroused by a report by human rights group Amnesty International which in 2000 criticised NATO for failing to suspend the attack on the Varvarin bridge after it was evident they had hit civilians.

Amnesty said the court's decision showed contempt for the development of international law.

"Contrary to the court's argument, individuals -- not only states -- are entitled to compensation in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Amnesty International international law expert Nils Geissler.

A plaintiffs' lawyer told Reuters it was unclear whether the group of Serbs would take further action.

"We do not exclude the possibility that we will take this further -- it would go next to the Constitutional Court -- but it is too early to say yet," lawyer Joachim Kummer told Reuters.

Lower courts in Bonn and Cologne rejected the suit.

Kosovo premier says Russian stance on status "not constructive"

Text of report in English by independent internet news agency KosovaLive

Prishtina [Pristina], 2 November: Responding to the Russian demarche sent to the EU member states that Moscow will not agree with any decision that will not be accepted by Serbia, Kosova Prime Minister Agim Ceku said that this stance is not constructive or realistic.

"We think that, regardless of this stance, Russia will preserve the unity of the Contact Group and the UN Security Council. I do not believe that Russia has this stance only because it wants to support Serbia," said Ceku.

Prime Minister Ceku said that direct meetings with Russian authorities were requested because of these dilemmas in order to clear up the stance of the Kosovar party, as well as to inform Moscow about the arguments of the Albanians.

Regarding the visit to Moscow, which was requested by the Kosova Government, Ceku said that the chief of the Russian office in Prishtina and the Russian ambassador in Belgrade have sent a letter to the Russian authorities recommending them to accept the visit.

"Our request was taken into consideration and we expect a quick answer," says Ceku.

Russia sent a demarche to all the EU member states, reading that "Russian Federation will not agree on any decision that will not be accepted by Belgrade, the Contact Group, or the Security Council."

Source: KosovaLive website, Pristina, in English 2 Nov 06

Serbian aide warns Ahtisaari against "secret deal" with Kosovo Albanians

Text of report by Serbian independent news agency FoNet

Belgrade, 2 November: Serbian prime minister's adviser Aleksandar Simic today told FoNet that if it was true that UN special Kosovo envoy Martti Ahtisaari had made some secret plan with the [Kosovo Albanian] separatists in Pristina, behind Serbia's back, then he must know that this paper was absolutely worthless.

"It is especially worthless if it is made and if it is not in line with the UN Charter, and also if it disrupts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia," Simic emphasized, noting that "Serbia will never allow experiments with international law on its territory".

He warned that the UN special envoy's task was not to draft secret papers, but rather that Ahtisaari was obliged to organize talks during which obligatorily acceptable and compromise solutions would be reached, which "should not violate, but respect and value the tenets of international law".

"The government of Serbia, this one and every future government, as well as all other state institutions, are fully obliged by the popular will which confirmed the constitution, which clearly defines Kosovo-Metohija as an inalienable part of Serbia. Therefore, each paper by Ahtisaari must contain this fact," Simic emphasized.

Source: FoNet news agency, Belgrade, in Serbian 1341 gmt 2 Nov 06

A province prepares to depart - Serbia and Kosovo

(c) The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2006. All rights reserved
The likely independence of Kosovo

Despite its last-minute manoeuvring, Serbia now seems certain to lose Kosovo

WHAT you see is not always what you get. Serbia has a new constitution stating that Kosovo is an inalienable part of the country. Serb leaders told their people that, if they voted for the constitution in a referendum on October 28th-29th, it would speed their entrance into the European Union. But as Danas, a Serbian daily, noted tartly, “They promised a Kosovo in Serbia and a Serbia in Europe. It is hard to tell which is further away.” Politics in the Balkans has been going through a surreal phase—but reality is around the corner, in the form of Kosovo's independence.

Serbia has needed a new constitution ever since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The old one was designed when Serbia was part of a bigger country, with Montenegro. How odd then that, when Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who was asked by the United Nations to oversee negotiations between Serbs and Albanians on Kosovo's final status, said he would present his plans at the end of October, Serbia's leaders should have rushed a new constitution through parliament with almost no debate.

The leaders of all main parties rallied to the cause, asking people to vote in the referendum, which needed a 50% turnout to be valid. An aggressive campaign was launched, with millions of text messages sent out to remind people to cast their ballots. Yet only 55% actually voted, many of them late in the day. Suspicious eyebrows were raised; one politician who had called for a boycott declared that he did not believe the threshold had been reached. But given the chaos that a failed vote would have caused, nobody of significance was prepared to question its validity.

The reason for holding the referendum now was to delay, even by a few months, the loss of Kosovo. The idea is that, with the constitution adopted, Serbia will hold an election before Kosovo goes, stopping the extremist Radical Party from picking up more disaffected votes. This has been accepted by Mr Ahtisaari and other diplomats dealing with the Balkans. The election may be held in December. Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, wants a presidential election too, but this is being resisted by the prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica. He fears that Mr Tadic's popularity might pull in votes for his Democratic Party, reducing Mr Kostunica's chances of becoming prime minister again.

Serbian leaders also argued that a vote for the constitution would tell the world that Kosovo belonged to Serbia and should never be given independence. Most Serbs would like that to be true. But opinion polls show that few believe independence can be prevented. “Lies, lies, lies,” commented a taxi driver as he passed a billboard demanding a yes vote to keep Kosovo. “It was lost years ago.”

Since the war of 1999 Serbia's southern province has been under the jurisdiction of the UN. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who want nothing short of independence. Yet, ever since Mr Ahtisaari began his talks last February, Mr Kostunica has been repeating that Kosovo will never be independent. Now it seems he may have been playing a cleverer hand than some have thought.

What seems to be happening is that his government, the Kosovo Albanians and the outside powers involved (the “Contact Group”) are moving towards a messy and perhaps temporary solution. The scenario goes as follows. With Serbia holding an election in December, Mr Ahtisaari puts off presenting a final version of his plan to the UN Security Council. When he does so, it will suggest that Kosovo becomes independent but with limits placed on its sovereignty for some years to come. An EU team is in Pristina planning a mission to take over from the present UN one, which will be wound up. The EU is planning a similar set-up to the way Bosnia has been run since 1995. A post will be created called, probably, the International Civilian Representative, who will at the same time represent the EU. As in Bosnia, the job will come with considerable powers to intervene in the running of Kosovo. The NATO-led force now in place will remain.

Right now, says Enver Hoxhaj, a member of the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team, “The real talks have...begun. They are not between Pristina and Belgrade, but between the members of the Contact Group.” The key ones are the Americans and the British, who support independence, and the Russians, who do not. Trade-offs between them are being proposed, some involving issues unrelated to the Balkans, such as Iran. But what is expected to be agreed by the end of March is a new UN resolution that avoids using the word “independence”. At this point Kosovo's parliament will declare independence unilaterally. Some, perhaps most, countries will recognise the new state—but others, including Serbia, will not.

Kosovo's Albanians will be happy with this—but they will have a bitter pill to swallow too. The Serb-inhabited north of Kosovo (north Mitrovica and beyond) will ignore independence and continue to operate as it does now—which is, in effect, as part of Serbia. Whether Serbs in the rest of Kosovo then choose to flee depends on what happens. In the long run Mr Kostunica may hope for a formal partition. Some Albanians would like that, but only if they get Albanian-inhabited parts of south Serbia in exchange. Partition, sighs one diplomat, is “the love that dares not speak its name”. If Kosovo can be partitioned, why not Macedonia and Bosnia?

Kosovo Albanian politicians seem curiously resigned to losing control of the north. Many think that, in the long run, Serbia will be forced to recognise the new Kosovo's territorial integrity as the price it has to pay to join the EU. In the short run, it is fashionable also to refer to the Irish precedent. Until 1999 the Irish Republic claimed the whole island of Ireland under its constitution, but it did not act on it. A future Serbia, with Kosovo still enshrined in its constitution, could take the same approach. If it does not, says Milica Delevic-Djilas, head of Perspektiva, a new think-tank meant to produce ideas about the Balkans and European integration, “It's the end of regional co-operation and of our aspirations for the EU.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Future of Kosovo in question Independence likely, but only in name

Nicholas Wood
International Herald Tribune
887 words
1 November 2006
International Herald Tribune
© 2006 International Herald Tribune. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.
All expectations are that, in the next few months, Kosovo will claim an internationally sanctioned independence, concluding a titanic struggle by the United Nations and Western governments to close a chapter that began with its bloody ethnic war. But it is unlikely to be the conclusion the United Nations hoped for, after having invested seven years supervising the enclave at a cost of about $1.3 billion a year. That is because it seems increasingly evident that the West will need to retain far greater responsibilities than it wanted.

The outlook has changed with the failure of both the Albanian and Serbian sides to reach an agreement in nine months of negotiations, in particular since the Serbs are refusing to recognize Albanian- dominated institutions in what has been a territory dear to their religious and cultural heritage. The negotiations are dragging on, raising the likelihood that a solution will be imposed. That would end a process that began with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago, which led to wars in Croatia, Bosnia and, finally, Kosovo. For Western Europe, the wish has always been that resolving Kosovo, the last of the three problem areas, would end the risk of violent disputes over borders and alleviate the need to have a heavy international presence both in troops and in civil administration on the ground. Planning is already under way for a European Union- led mission to take over from the UN.

"Everybody is anxious to solve this," said Joachim Rucker, head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. "It is the last bit of the Balkan puzzle."

The political calendar in Serbia leaves unclear exactly when a resolution might come: possibly next year, after Serbian elections, although the Americans are eager to conclude things without delay. The Americans are not heavily invested in Kosovo but would be expected to pay some of costs of establishing a more independent state. Whatever the timing, it seems that foreign officials will retain extensive powers for some time to come, UN and EU officials here say. With high levels of poverty in Kosovo, the financial costs may continue to be substantial. "I think the EU is going to be in for a bit of a shock," said Anthony Welch, coordinator of a UN- commissioned review of Kosovo's future security needs. "I think their role is going to have to be a little more hands-on. And it is going to cost a lot."

Kosovo has remained under UN control since the province was prized away in June 1999 from Yugoslav security forces accused of committing atrocities against the majority Albanian population. Its sovereignty remains in limbo: While Kosovo is formally part of Serbia, the six nations overseeing the negotiations on its future say it cannot return to Belgrade's rule. At this point, the parameters of an imposed settlement are clear, according to officials responsible for planning the succession to the UN mission. With Russia openly opposed to Kosovo's independence Moscow says that would set a precedent for other breakaway states officials say it is unlikely that a UN resolution will grant the province full statehood. Instead a resolution may allow other countries to recognize Kosovo as they wish. "The Security Council would issue a mandate for a mission led by the European Union, and invite individual countries to recognize Kosovo," Welch said. Kosovo would not have a seat in the UN General Assembly, a key Serbian wish. The European Union says it is eager not to duplicate the overarching powers and cumbersome bureaucracy the UN had in Kosovo, which at one stage totaled 11,000 people and included international police officers a presence that has been a source of tension with the majority Albanian population. EU officials say their new mission will have a substantially reduced level. The new office, headed by an international civilian representative, will have limited powers. It could dismiss local politicians, or annul laws, but only if they were deemed to be interfering with the peace settlement. Those powers would be reviewed at yearly intervals. "We will be limited in scope and in power, because we believe the philosophy has to be one of ownership and accountability," said Torbjorn Sohlstrom, head of the small team of EU officials setting up the mission that will take over for the UN.

The EU's principal role would be to put into place the UN- sanctioned peace settlement, much of which is likely to focus on the ethnic Albanian-dominated government's provision for minorities. Decentralization would grant the Serbian municipal authorities in Kosovo a substantial say over their own affairs. But Serbian opposition to the international community's plans might require a more heavy-handed approach, perhaps even forcing the EU office to appoint representatives if the Serbs refused to elect their own. That role would continue as long as the Serbs' leader refused to recognize Kosovo's institutions, Sohlstrom said.

"Status implementation will depend on the level of cooperation by the Kosovar Serbs," he said. With European Union enthusiasm for its further enlargement put on hold, the prospect of a greater European responsibility in Kosovo is unlikely to be welcomed in the bloc's capitals.

Serbian PM says UN envoy's Kosovo proposal doomed if not in line with UN Charter

Text of report by Serbian TV on 1 November

[Presenter] Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has assessed that [UN special Kosovo envoy] Martti Ahtisaari's proposal for solving the Kosovo-Metohija problem is doomed well in advance if it is not in line with the UN Charter and if it violates the principle of Serbia's territorial sovereignty.

The Serbian government did not receive Ahtisaari's draft for solving the Kosovo-Metohija status, nor did we have any opportunity at all to discuss it with him, Kostunica told Tanjug.

He assessed as worrisome that Ahtisaari has so far held only a single meeting with the Serbian and Albanian side, but now had a draft which has never been discussed. Ahtisaari has not at all manage to organize serious talks over the past year, Kostunica emphasized.

Source: RTS 1 TV, Belgrade, in Serbian 1400 gmt 1 Nov 06

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kosovo independence looms but brief delay on cards

BELGRADE, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Kosovo got the clearest signs yet on Tuesday that independence is coming, but the United States and the European Union seemed divided on whether to delay a U.N. decision so that Serbia can hold an election first.

"It is the firm view of the U.S. that a delay offers no advantages to any party," said Frank Wisner, U.S. envoy to the breakaway Serbia province that has been run by the United Nations for the past seven years.

"The United States further believes that delay can only leave in limbo the definition of this region, which needs to close its door on the past and to define its future," he said in Belgrade after meeting Serbian officials.

Western powers are wary that delaying a U.N. decision on a Kosovo proposal by envoy Martti Ahtisaari -- reported to recommend a two-year path to statehood -- could invite trouble from ethnic Albanian extremists.

But some fear pushing it through before a Serbian election could boost the vote for anti-Western nationalist hardliners.

The U.S. is not convinced by the argument but Wisner, leaving room for compromise, said that until an election date was set Washington could not say if a delay would make sense.

The U.N. launched talks on Kosovo's final status in February aiming to complete them by end 2006. But there has been no compromise on the key issue. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence; Serbia rejects the demand.

Ahtisaari has given U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan his 'preliminary ideas' on the future of Kosovo, which do not use the word independence yet, but offer a clear path to statehood over the next two years.

The plan sets "criteria which characterise an independent country", a senior Western diplomat in Kosovo told Reuters.

Diplomats say the blow to Serb pride from losing 15 percent of its territory could tilt voters towards hardline anti-Western nationalist parties if it is delivered before a Serbian election now considered imminent.

With this risk in mind, European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana said earlier on Tuesday that Ahtisaari should delay presenting his final plan, if the Serbs schedule an election to be held before the end of this year.

"We would wait to make the decision on what would be the final status," Solana told reporters in Madrid.


The Contact Group on Kosovo -- the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- is to meet on Nov.10, and may decide on timing if Serbia has set an election date by then.

Most Serb parties, including the ultranationalist Radicals, the country's strongest, say elections should be held as soon as possible. If they are scheduled for December, the decision on Kosovo would likely be stalled by a couple of months at most.

But Kosovo Albanians, who have been waiting in limbo to get their own state for seven years, oppose any delay at all.

The province of 2 million has been run by the UN since 1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing war drove out Serb forces accused of killing civilians while fighting separatist guerrillas.

The Kosovo-based diplomat said Ahtissari's plan would begin by letting Kosovo join world bodies reserved for sovereign states. States would subsequently be free to recognise it as Europe's newest independent state, or not.

The compromise is reportedly the result of opposition from Russia -- U.N. veto holder and sometime Serb ally -- to the notion of a U.N. resolution directly making Kosovo independent.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said "it would be a problem" if Ahtisaari's plan does not use the word 'independence'. But in a conciliatory note he added that Kosovo's government would look carefully at "the substance of the proposal", not the letter.

"It is very important that the substance of his proposal means independence," he told a news conference.

The impact of a delay in the decision for the highly volatile province, however, may be harder to gauge. Some Kosovo Albanian hardliners believe they ought to have declared independence unilaterally long ago.

U.N. agencies and NATO peacekeepers both have contingency plans for trouble as the decision process reaches its climax. (additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Madrid)

U.S. envoy for Kosovo urges conclusion of status talks

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A U.S. envoy involved in negotiations to resolve Kosovo's postwar status said Tuesday that the talks must finish by the end of the year, as scheduled, and any delay would leave the region in "limbo."

The U.N.-mediated talks began in February, but have been made little progress in bridging the deeply conflicting positions of both sides. Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians insist on independence and have rejected offers of broad autonomy from Belgrade, which wants to keep the southern province within Serbia's border.

"We should move ahead and conclude these negotiations as soon as possible," said the U.S. envoy, Frank Wisner, after meetings with senior Serbian officials in Belgrade. "This is the firm view of the United States."

Serbia's breakaway southern province has been a U.N.-protectorate since the end of the war between Serb military forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999. Most analysts have predicted that Kosovo will be granted some form of independence.

Wisner's visit to Belgrade came only days after Serbia approved in a referendum a new constitution which states that Kosovo is an integral part of the republic, regardless of the outcome of the U.N.-brokered talks.

The ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have dismissed the Serbian charter as irrelevant, but Serbian leaders have argued that popular backing on the Kosovo issue would improve their position at the talks.

Wisner said only that the "Serbian constitution is a Serbian matter."

He emphasized that any delay in the Kosovo talks must be avoided.

"Delay can only frustrate the hopes of those who live in Kosovo, and deny clarity to Serbians," he said. "The United States further believes that the delay can only leave in limbo the definition of this region, which needs to close its door on the past and begin to define its future."

The U.S. envoy met with President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.

Draskovic said in a statement that a compromise over Kosovo should "present a bridge between Serbia's territorial integrity and the ethnic Albanian majority's demand to run Kosovo."

Kostunica insisted that "a solution for Kosovo must be in accordance with international law ... which guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member states."

He added that "only the United Nations Security Council can authorize a solution for Kosovo; a unilateral recognition (of Kosovo's independence) would be absolutely invalid."

Serbia perceives the United States as supportive of the ethnic Albanian bid for independence. Kostunica repeatedly has said that he is counting on Serbia's traditional ally, Russia, to block possible Kosovo independence at the U.N. Security Council where it holds veto power.

Wisner said that "the final status is still under discussion ... and will be discussed further."

Albania says Serbian constitution's claim on Kosovo unacceptable

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Albania said Tuesday that the new Serbian constitution's claim over Kosovo is unacceptable.

A Foreign Ministry statement said the charter, approved in a weekend referendum, was unhelpful at a time when international talks are under way to determine Kosovo's final status.

Since the end of the war between Serb military forces and separatists in the southern province in 1999, the predominantly ethnic Albanian territory has been run by a U.N. administration and patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.

The new Serbian constitution refers to Kosovo as an integral part of the nation.

"That was a unilateral and unproductive act," the ministry statement said.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population, are demanding independence, while Serbia wants to keep at least some control over the province.

The U.N.-mediated negotiations on its future are scheduled to finish by the end of the year, but little progress has been made in talks between the two sides.

Albania has been the strongest supporter of Kosovo's independence, though it says it has no territorial claims over the territory.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Serb, Kosovo Albanian leaders differ on meaning of referendum's approval

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Serbian leaders on Monday hailed the outcome of a referendum reinforcing the country's claim to the U.N.-administered province of Kosovo, but Kosovo's independence-minded ethnic Albanian majority called the result irrelevant.

Serbs and Kosovo Albanians are deadlocked over Belgrade's demands it retain some hold on the province despite Kosovo Albanians' insistence on independence -- a nettlesome divide that helped plunge the region into a war that left thousands of people dead.

While voters only narrowly passed the weekend referendum on a new constitution restating the Serb claim to Kosovo, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the results "made it clear that we will protect our country's integrity ... and that Kosovo is part of Serbia."

Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovo Serb leader, said the new constitution sends a "very important message" to international officials mediating in talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

"Serbia will not easily give up Kosovo, this is the main message," he said. "It tells the international community it must take into account the Serb stand as well, not only the one of (Kosovo) Albanians."

Predictably, Kosovo Albanians differed on the meaning of the vote's result.

"We consider it very irrelevant," Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku told Associated Press Television News.

The status of the province led to a war between Serbia and Kosovo that ended in June 1999, after NATO bombing forced a withdrawal by troops loyal to Slobodan Milosevic, president of what was then Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia.

Kosovo has been governed since then by the U.N., although ethnic Albanians, who constitute a more than 90-percent majority, have been granted increasing political responsibility. Along with Serbs outside Kosovo, the province's ethnic Serb minority is also vehemently opposed to independence for the province.

Kosovo was stripped of its autonomous status 1989 by Milosevic amid a building Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority. The war that followed nearly a decade later left about 10,000 people dead, most of them ethnic Albanians. About 1 million others fled temporarily to neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

The referendum -- on a new post-Milosevic era constitution that restates the Serb claim to Kosovo -- nearly foundered with barely more than the required 50 percent turnout needed to make it valid.

The EU downplayed the referendum's significance, with EU spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy saying "the issue of the future status of Kosovo" was being dealt with the U.N.-mediated talks. And she said that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority was left off voters lists.


Associated Press writers Katarina Kratovac and Jovana Gec contributed to this report from Belgrade.

US welcomes Serbian constitution, except for Kosovo provision

WASHINGTON, Oct 30, 2006 (AFP) -

The United States welcomed on Monday Serbia's adoption of a new constitution as a positive step for democracy, but it brushed aside the document's attempt to cement Belgrade's authority over the breakaway province of Kosovo.

Preliminary results from a weekend referendum showed voters narrowly endorsing the constitution, drafted to account for the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and, most recently, Montenegro's separation from Serbia in May.

"It's a positive step forward for the Serbian people in terms of having a democratic process to deal with what could have been very heated political disputes," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He said thorny issues relating to the dissolution of the Serbia-Montenegro union "were dealt with in a clear, rational manner" in the new constitution.

But McCormack said provisions in the text reasserting Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo were irrelevant given an ongoing UN-administered effort to determine the future of the province.

"That process is governed by a UN Security Council resolution," he said.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO troops ousted Serbian forces from the province to halt attacks on the region's ethnic Albanian majority.

A special UN envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari, has been trying to negotiate a status agreement for the province before the end of this year, but has been hamstrung by Serbian opposition.

The ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population are seeking independence for the province, while Belgrade is only prepared to offer broad autonomy.

ANALYSIS-EU fears U.N. proposal may fall short on Kosovo

BRUSSELS, Oct 30 (Reuters) - European officials are worried that a U.N. mediator will avoid outlining a clear final status for Kosovo, risking a unilateral declaration of independence that may cause a diplomatic crisis and split the European Union.

Officials familiar with Finnish mediator Martti Ahtisaari's thinking say he is set to stop short of proposing independence for the breakaway Serbian province in deference to fierce hostility from Belgrade and strong Russian opposition.

"The dangerous situation is if there is no clear recommendation as to the final status," one senior EU official said. "There is a very significant risk of that."

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, in charge of the European integration of the Western Balkans, has been urging Ahtisaari to ensure clarity in his proposals for an agreed settlement, due to be issued sometime in November.

Many European officials are urging the mediator to delay his push for a deal until after early Serbian elections possible in December, following a weekend referendum that approved a new constitution declaring Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.

But the United States and Britain are pressing for a final status agreement this year, arguing that delay risks provoking violence among Kosovo's overwhelmingly Albanian population.

Kosovo has been under United Nations protection in a state of legal limbo since 1999, when NATO waged an air campaign to drive out Serbian forces and stop ethnic cleansing.

Its prime minister, Agim Ceku, insists independence by the end of this year is the only acceptable outcome for Kosovo's 2 million people, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians.

"Nothing less than independence will be acceptable," the former general told Reuters in an interview this month.


While Washington and London argue that Kosovo's situation is unique, Russia sees it as a precedent for changing international borders without the consent of the country concerned.

If Kosovo can have independence against Belgrade's wishes, then breakaway regions of Moldova or Georgia backed by Moscow should enjoy the same right, Russian officials contend.

The EU official said Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president and veteran negotiator often tipped for the Nobel peace prize, felt it was not his duty to make "a judgment of Solomon".

He planned to set out legal arrangements on governance, decentralisation and minority rights but leave the ultimate final status decision to the U.N. Security Council.

The Kosovo daily Express, quoting two diplomats it said had seen Ahtisaari's draft, said the plan would not include the word "independence" but recommend Kosovo be given "treaty-making powers" and the right to join international organisations.

A senior European diplomat in the Kosovo capital Pristina said the report "seems to tie in very much with what we know.

"He doesn't mention independence but Ahtisaari is describing the criteria which characterise an independent country," he said.

An EU official in Brussels said that could trigger a "messy scenario" in which the Security Council would be deadlocked and the Kosovo government, perhaps with the green light from Washington, would declare independence.

If that happened, there would be an intense diplomatic battle over recognition, with the United States likely to lead a drive for recognition against Russian resistance.

The EU risked a split between "Orthodox and Habsburg" member states closer to Serbia and others such as Britain that might recognise Kosovo individually, he said.


An EU diplomat in Brussels said a discussion of Kosovo among ambassadors of the 25-nation bloc last week was based on the assumption that Ahtisaari would delay.

"Now it looks as if the whole schedule has been delayed. Ahtisaari will want to see Serbian elections before presenting his report. People recognise it is a very complicated process," the diplomat said.

But Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said after talks with EU officials last Friday that a delay in Kosovo's final status could affect his own country next door.

"The situation in our country is stable, however we are aware that certain risks exist on Kosovo," he said. "You need only three people, one landmine, one flag and a press communique to have an incident.

"Therefore we think a decision concerning the final status of Kosovo should be taken earlier ... The endless prolongation of the status quo is not creating a bigger space for some ideal solution. There will be no ideal solution," he said.

It was always best to take difficult decisions in the Balkans in winter, he said, before the snows melt and fighters can take to the mountains. (Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels and Matt Robinson in Pristina)

UN envoy offers Kosovo limited sovereignty: report

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 30, 2006 (AFP) -

The special UN envoy in talks on Kosovo's future, Martti Ahtisaari, has proposed offering the Serbian province and its ethnic-Albanian majority limited sovereignty, a report said Monday.

Ahtisaari, who has been leading talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the status of Kosovo, stepped short of proposing the independence for the UN-run province, said Kosovo's independent Express newspaper.

The Finnish diplomat recommended forming "the newest state in the Balkans ... with limited sovereignty, a continued international presence and competencies in important fields," it said, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources.

"It is clear that the competencies given to Kosovo mean only one thing -- independence with limited sovereignty," said the daily, known for its good contacts with Western diplomats.

The negotiations on the future status of the southern Serbian province, administered by the United Nations since June 1999, began in February under the auspices of the world body.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up around 90 percent of the province's two million population, are seeking independence from Serbia.

But the government in Belgrade and Kosovo's Serb minority insist the province -- which they consider the cradle of Serbian culture and history -- should only be granted greater autonomy.

The report came after 52.3 percent of the Serbian electorate backed a new constitution in a weekend referendum, which stresses that Kosovo is part of Serbia.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians were barred from voting, after they boycotted earlier polls.

Earlier this month, Ahtisaari submitted a 53-page report on the course of the talks and his recommendation for Kosovo to the Contact Group of leading countries overseeing peace in the Balkans.

Its members include the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

Ahtisaari was against giving Kosovo full international recognition with a UN seat, foreign ministry and army, the daily said.

However, Kosovo would have an "ability to sign international treaties and agreements, including membership in some international organisations," it reported.

The European Union would take administrative control of political issues in the province from the United Nations, it added.

"Ahtisaari is waiting for comments from the Contact Group before presenting his proposal to the United Nations Security Council," it said.

The daily speculated that Kosovo's provisional parliament "would adopt (its own) new constitution and declare independence" from Serbia after the United Nations adopted a resolution on its new status.

"The Kosovo government will seek official recognition and a seat in the international organisations," it added.

The province came under United Nations and NATO control in mid-1999 after the alliance's 11-week bombing campaign ended a brutal crackdown by the Serbian security forces under the regime of late leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

The international community has insisted that UN-sponsored talks must wind up by the end of the year, but so far neither side has shown any signs of compromise.

Serbia referendum will have no affect on Kosovo status talks, prime minister says

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Kosovo's prime minister on Monday dismissed claims that Serbia's new referendum could influence the outcome of U.N.-led talks on the breakaway province's future status.

The weekend vote on a new Serbian constitution that asserts Belgrade's claim on Kosovo would not have "any impact at all" on the drive by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians for independence, Prime Minister Agim Ceku said.

"We consider it very irrelevant," Ceku said, adding that it "does not deserve any comment from us."

Partial results from the Saturday-Sunday referendum indicate Serb voters have approved the new constitution, replacing a 1990 charter drafted under Serbia's former dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Final results were expected later Monday.

Western powers have criticized the new constitution for its assertion over the disputed Kosovo province, which has been run by the United Nations since a 1999 NATO air campaign halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

The U.N. envoy overseeing talks on Kosovo's final status, Martti Ahtisaari, was expected to present a proposal for the province's future in mid-November. Most diplomats have said the province will likely get some sort of independence, although there are concerns about the security of the 100,000 or so Serbs still living in Kosovo.

Serbs consider Kosovo to be the birthplace of the nation and home of the medieval Serbian kingdom. But sour relations between the two communities peaked in the 1998-99 war that left some 10,000 dead before NATO's 78-day bombing campaign stopped the Serb crackdown.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Serbs approve constitution with last-minute votes

BELGRADE, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Serbia adopted its first constitution of the post-Milosevic era on Sunday after a last-minute surge to the polls saved a two-day referendum from failure due to insufficient turnout.

According to preliminary results from the respected national polling organisation CESID, 51.6 percent of the electorate of 6.6 million voted in favour of the constitution.

Overall turnout was 53.5 percent.

The document of 206 articles includes a preamble reaffirming Serbian sovereignty over the breakaway province of Kosovo, whose 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority ignored the vote, saying it made no difference to their demand for independence.

The previous constitution under the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 1990 stripped Kosovo its autonomy and ushered in a decade of oppression culminating in a war with NATO that ended with Kosovo being removed to United Nations control.

Debate on the content of the new constitution was scant ahead of the vote, and analysis of the result focused on how close it had come to failure by banking on the emotional pull of the Kosovo issue for Serbs.

"The magic figure of 3.32 million was passed at seven o'clock (1800 GMT)," said Zoran Lucic of the respected CESID polling organisation. Exactly 50 percent had voted with one hour of polling still to go, he said. Lucic's prediction of a final turnout of more than 53 percent was later proved accurate.


The bill's reference to Kosovo as an "inalienable" part of Serbia is seen as an eleventh-hour bid to block independence.

Critics say the clause was simply a fig leaf to help leaders duck responsibility for its impending loss, as well as a device to appeal to notoriously apathetic voters.

The United States says the clause changes nothing. The Kosovo Albanian demand for independence has the sympathy of Western powers whose troops took control in 1999 to stop Milosevic's army killing civilians in a guerrilla war.

Diplomats say the United Nations could grant Kosovo a form of independence in the coming months over Serbia's objections.

Serbian President Boris Tadic had warned that rejection of the constitution would plunge Serbia into "months, maybe years" of political uncertainty. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said it would have had "bleak and unforeseeable consequences".

Kostunica's minority coalition is on its last legs, with the resignations of its key partners in the liberal G17 Plus party in his drawer. G17 has said this would ensure early elections as soon as the constitutional vote is over.

Elections were not due until the autumn of 2007.

Kostunica is now expected to call an early election, hoping for a stronger majority to ward off constant pressure from the ultranationalist Radical Party.

The threat of Serbia turning to the Radicals in a fit of anti-Westernism if Kosovo is made independent has been used by his government to scare Western powers insisting on the handover of top war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, a hero to the Radicals.

The European Union has punished Serbia for failing to arrest him by suspending talks on closer ties, relegating the country to the bottom of the Balkan queue for eventual membership.

But some analysts said the lukewarm response to the Kosovo rallying call had exposed the nationalist threat as an empty one. (Additional reporting by Ljilja Cvekic and Zorana Vucicevic)