By Barry Wood
23 March 2006
With independence now seen among Western governments as the likely outcome of talks about the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo, the European Union Wednesday called on the Kosovo Albanians to take action to protect the province's Serbian minority. Minority rights is taking center stage in the status negotiations.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Kosovo's prime minister, Agim Ceku, that he is insisting on full protection for the territory's 10 percent Serbian minority. The discussions in Brussels were the first between Solana and the recently installed Mr. Ceku. The EU official expressed their frustration with the Kosovo leader, saying there has been a lot of talk on protecting the Serbian minority, but very little action.
United Nations sponsored talks on Kosovo began last month and a third meeting between officials from Serbia and Kosovo is scheduled for April 3rd. The talks thus far have focused on local government but minority rights and cultural heritage will soon be discussed.
Independence is now almost certainly the intended outcome of the talks even though this is vigorously opposed by Serbia. Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary, recently became the highest-level western official to endorse independence, saying it was almost inevitable. Kosovo, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 after a 78 day NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian troops to withdraw. The status negotiations are guided by a contact group of six nations-the United States, Britain, Russia, France, Germany, and Italy.
At a forum Wednesday at Washington's Georgetown University, Balkans specialist and former U.S .ambassador to Turkey Mort Abramowitz said the status negotiations provide the opportunity to get Kosovo's Albanian majority to enact meaningful minority safeguards.
"And the best you can do right now is, I believe, pressure the Kosovars on how important this is, and to get them to carry out whatever activities and legislation they can do to improve the lot of the Serb and other minorities," he said.
Abramowitz said the ongoing Kosovo negotiations must determine whether the territory will have full independence and a seat in the United Nations. Similarly, he said the status of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in the north must be resolved.
Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown said it would be a mistake to eliminate any possibility of territorial adjustments. The Serbian populated land north of Mitrovica is adjacent to Serbia proper. "Unless the international community and Pristina is prepared to do what is necessary to reattach Mitrovica and northern Kosovo to a functioning state, I don't think they should make partition unacceptable. This is an area that is almost 100 percent Serb," he said.
The UN and the six-nation contact group have ruled out territorial adjustments as well as any future merger between an independent Kosovo and neighboring Albania.
The UN officials chairing the Kosovo talks hope to reach a settlement by the end of the year.