By Neil MacDonald in Pristina
>Published: April 27 2006 16:19 | Last updated: April 27 2006 16:19
Agim Ceku, prime minister of Kosovo, played down a border dispute with neighbouring Macedonia on Thursday, saying that the current border would not change after the breakaway Serbian province gains formal independence.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Ceku said that the line agreed by Macedonia and Serbia in 2001 would be respected in practice, even if Belgrade had no authority to speak for Kosovo. The 90 per cent ethnic-Albanian province has been under United Nations administration since the expulsion of Serb-led Yugoslav forces in 1999.
“There will be no change of borders,” Mr Ceku said.
However, the demarcation of the boundary through the mountainous Debelde area – a step Macedonia has pushed for repeatedly since Mr Ceku took office March 9 – can only proceed when Kosovo becomes a sovereign state.
“This, for us, is a very technical issue, not a political issue and not a source of political destabilisation,” Mr Ceku insisted.
The day before, he had rankled Macedonia’s government by visiting Debelde and rejecting Serbia’s right to make sovereign decisions there. According to Reuters newswires, Prime Minister Ceku said that the line through the area’s rugged pastoral lands should be renegotiated.
Vlado Buckovski, Macedonia’s prime minister, has demanded closure on this “open border question” as a pre-condition for Kosovo’s independence. The UN Security Council endorsed the Serbian-Macedonian border deal in 2001 over the objections of Kosovo Albanian leaders.
Both prime ministers have come under domestic pressure lately to beat their drums over Debelde. In the absence of an outright territorial disagreement, Mr Ceku and Mr Buckovski have ratcheted up their respective positions on when demarcation should happen.
Macedonia’s forthcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for July 5, are the reason the issue has come up now, according to Mr Ceku. But he, too, had to placate angry villagers, some of whose properties were divided by the new boundary, officials in Kosovo’s government said.
Under the 2001 agreement, Serbia transferred 2,500 hectares to Macedonia, which had seceded from the Yugoslav federation ten years before. The current misunderstanding shows why Kosovo needs sovereignty as soon as possible, Mr Ceku said.