Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Finally, final status Kosovo must soon secure conditional independence.

The international community is finally summoning up the courage to try to settle the Kosovo question - the last big unsolved issue left by the violent collapse of Yugoslavia.

Not before time. While there are risks in pressing for a settlement, it is more dangerous for Kosovo to remain as it is - a United Nations protectorate with its future blighted by uncertainty, unemployment and rampant crime.

The Kosovo Contact Group, consisting of the US, European Union states and Russia, was right after the 1999 war to freeze talk of Kosovo's final status, given the danger of provoking renewed fighting between the ethnic Albanian majority, which wants independence, and the Serb minority which claims Kosovo remains part of Serbia.

But now conditions in the former Yugoslavia are improving. Slovenia has joined the EU, Croatia has started entry talks, Macedonia is a recognised accession candidate, and Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro have started association agreement talks. Meanwhile Slobodan Milosevic, ex-Yugoslav president, and other alleged war criminals are in custody, although Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still free. And the economy is recovering from the wars of the 1990s.

With unemployment, crime and corruption rife, the environment is not perfect. Serbia is in a particularly hard position: as well as the prospect of losing Kosovo, it faces a likely complete break with Montenegro, the last ex-Yugoslav republic linked to Belgrade.

But there may never be a better time to act on Kosovo. And, with the US and its allies embroiled in the Middle East, western diplomats badly need a settlement in the Balkans to show intervention can end in success.

The plan is for ethnic Albanians and Serbs to negotiate a settlement. But these talks will very likely break down as Belgrade refuses to accept independence and ethnic Albanians, who compose over 90 per cent of the population, want nothing less.

The Contact Group must then be ready to impose conditional independence as anything less would perpetuate instability and risk an ethnic Albanian backlash. In return, the ethnic Albanians must be pressed to grant the local Serbs constitutional safeguards.

A settlement can be imposed only if Russia co-operates. Moscow has voiced concern about the precedent independence might set for troubled zones of the former Soviet Union. But Russia must be persuaded that UN-sanctioned conditional independence would be a less frightening precedent than an ethnic Albanian uprising.

Whatever the final deal, international troops and administrators must remain in Kosovo for years to come. The EU must continue to support the region with aid and stick by promises of future EU membership. Nothing will help the region to break with the past and focus on the future more than the prospect of EU integration.

The international community is finally summoning up the courage to try to settle the Kosovo question - the last big unsolved issue left by the violent collapse of Yugoslavia.

Not before time. While there are risks in pressing for a settlement, it is more dangerous for Kosovo to remain as it is - a United Nations protectorate with its future blighted by uncertainty, unemployment and rampant crime.

The Kosovo Contact Group, consisting of the US, European Union states and Russia, was right after the 1999 war to freeze talk of Kosovo's final status, given the danger of provoking renewed fighting between the ethnic Albanian majority, which wants independence, and the Serb minority which claims Kosovo remains part of Serbia.

But now conditions in the former Yugoslavia are improving. Slovenia has joined the EU, Croatia has started entry talks, Macedonia is a recognised accession candidate, and Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro have started association agreement talks. Meanwhile, ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and other alleged war criminals are in custody, although Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still free. And the economy is recovering from the wars of the 1990s.

With unemployment, crime and corruption rife, the enviroment is not perfect. Serbia is in a particularly hard position: as well as the prospect of losing Kosovo, it faces a likely complete break with Montenegro, the last ex-Yugoslav republic linked to Belgrade.

But there may never be a better time to act on Kosovo. And, with the US and its allies embroiled in the Middle East, western diplomats badly need a settlement in the Balkans to show intervention can end in success.

The plan is for ethnic Albanians and Serbs to negotiate a settlement. But, these talks will very likely break down as Belgrade refuses to accept independence and ethnic Albanians, who compose over 90 per cent of the population, want nothing less.

The Contact Group must then be ready to impose conditional independence as anything less would perpetuate instability and risk an ethnic Albanian backlash. In return, the ethnic Albanians must be pressed to grant the local Serbs constitutional safeguards.

A settlement can be imposed only if Russia cooperates. Moscow has voiced concern about the precedent independence might set for troubled zones of the former Soviet Union. But Russia must be persuaded that UN-sanctioned conditional independence would be a less frightening precedent than an ethnic Albanian uprising.

Whatever the final deal, international troops and administrators must remain in Kosovo for years to come. The EU must continue to support the region with aid and stick by promises of future EU membership. Nothing will help the region to break with the past and focus on the future more than the prospect of EU integration.

1 comment:

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