Monday, July 31, 2006

What will Belgrade do now that Kosovo's independence becomes the only option? (Zëri)

In a front-page editorial, Zëri writes that the last week may well turn out to be the most crucial period for the “enlightening of Kosovo’s fate.”

This assessment is based on two events, the first “a long-awaited public event covered by hundreds of reporters”, while the second was “behind-the-curtain” event without anyone’s presence other than that of those who needed to sincerely talk to one another on what is expected to happen in the international engagement aspect, the paper writes.

With the public meeting, Zëri refers to the “elephants’” round of talks that gathered Kosovo and Serbian top officials. The paper writes that the chief negotiator Martti Ahtisaari and the Contact Group were greatly concerned on what the Belgrade Delegation led by PM Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic would do and on whether they might walk out of the meeting unhappy with the course of Ahtisaari’s mission. The paper also says that international community’s fear was supported by the gesture of the Serbian PM Kostunica who refused to lunch with his Austrian counterpart Wolfgang Schuessel and three Kosovo Delegation members - President Fatmir Sejdiu, PM Agim Çeku and PDK leader Hashim Thaçi.

The second event is the visit of the US Status Envoy Frank Wisner to Belgrade and the meeting he had with Serbian PM Kostunica. Even though the meeting was held far from the eyes of the media, “it was not difficult to deduce what was discussed in this dialogue”, which, according to diplomatic sources that the paper quotes, was the most difficult for the Serbian leader ever since the Kosovo status talks began. The sources said that Kostunica “as never before” realized that the stand of the USA and of other countries from the Contact Group is in favour of Kosovo’s independence.

According to the paper, not only PM Kostunica but also other Serbian officials have expected that the first round of direct talks in Vienna would bring improvement of Belgrade’s position with regards to Kosovo’s status and that the offer for “substantial autonomy” would even be considered by the Contact Group. However, “these expectations of the Serb side did not materialize”. In fact, Zëri notes, quite the opposite happened. There was never more talk, medially and politically, on independence of Kosovo in the days after the meeting in Vienna than in the last two months. “This approach was topped by Ambassador Wisner, with his unique clarity, in the meeting he had with Kostunica in Belgrade”, the paper adds.

Belgrade is now left with two paths, says Zëri. The first would include Serbia’s new engagement, in the six coming weeks of technical issue talks, where through cooperativeness with UNOSEK it would try to contribute good solutions for the Serb community in Kosovo. The second path makes use of the Serbs in the north of Kosovo to strengthen the resistance against international process for “building the state of Kosovo”. “This road is highly problematic and dangerous for Belgrade”, considers Zëri’s editorial.

Schook calls for framework for international mission in northern Kosovo (Zëri)

Zëri carries an extensive interview with PDSRSG Steven Schook, in which he calls for a framework for an international mission in northern Kosovo.
Following is the full translation of the interview.

The process of resolving the status of Kosovo is taking on a new drive. The situation in northern Kosovo cannot remain as it is. In this phase of the negotiations process, the situation in the northern part of Kosovo has gained a lot of importance in the table of the international community and cannot be left asides. The international community is considering the possibility of establishing an international mission that would be a body above the municipal leaders of the southern and northern part of Mitrovica and other municipalities in northern Kosovo. The mission would last 3-4 years with the aim of integrating the north of Kosovo, according to the agreement on final status. The framework that will define this issue will be worked in parallel with other negotiations on status. PDSRSG Steven Schook, who has raised this issue in meetings with the Contact Group, UNOSEK and Kosovar leaders, says that in the northern part there is a lot of political rhetoric coming from “appointed and irresponsible leaders” such as the Serb Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Milan Ivanovic. He says it is a terrible mistake that Serbs didn’t participate in the last elections to have legitimate leaders elected by the free vote that would speak and work for their interests.

In the interview for Zëri, the retired US General, who served in Kosovo for two years, tells how he “transformed” from a military officer into a diplomat and how he came back to Kosovo again.

Present at the meeting of “elephants” in Vienna, which he calls historic, he prefers the free debate from the “minds and hearts” of the leaders rather than reading speeches.

You have earlier served as general in Kosovo. How come you came back here, but now as a diplomat?
I have been in Kosovo for almost two years, and then I went to Sarajevo as commander of SFOR. And then I retired in November of 2005. I went to work in Washington DC for a private company. I was the senior vice president. And one day I got a telephone call from the State Department asking if I would consider them nominating me to the UN as the PDSRSG for UNMIK. And I think I thought about it for a split second and I said absolutely I’d be interested. And then I went through a series of interviews with the United Nations and here I am. I was here for two years. Obviously I became quite attached to the conditions and circumstances here and serving the people here. Given the opportunity to come back at this very critical junction for both the region and for Kosovo I was delighted to do that.

How do you find this transformation? You are working in Kosovo again, but now as a diplomat. Is it difficult?
Well, no, I hope not. I hope it is not too difficult. Quite frankly my last couple of jobs in the military were very close to what I am doing now: dealing with the political leaders, on political issues, trying to move things forward both in Kosovo and in Bosnia. I know there is a perception in the public of military versus being a diplomat, but very often the work that is done in the military, depending on the position you are in, are much related to diplomacy and not only strictly just guns and security. For example in Bosnia I worked in the reform of defence and moving beyond the Dayton Agreement. I met regularly meetings with the Tripartite Presidency of Bosnia, the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister, I went very often to Republika Srpska. And it was a huge decision when they (Serbs) agreed to give up from the Ministry of Defence and from creating an autonomous army in order to create the united army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All these were political decisions that we were working. Therefore I don’t think that it has been a major transition.

You participated at the meeting in Vienna, the so-called elephant round and you heard the Pristina delegation. What is your impression of that meeting. You also had a speech there?
My impression was first of all it was a historical event. It was a historical event without a lot of tension in the air. It was noticeable that there was not a lot of tension in the air. It was conducted by both sides at the highest level of professionalism and diplomacy. And very responsible by both sides. My personal opinion is I thought the Kosovo Delegation is very well prepared, executed very well. And their best session was in the afternoon session. And I hesitate to say this but the reason I say that the best session was the afternoon session because they were not reading speeches, they were speaking from the head and the heart and they were speaking about things as they saw them, and the way we should go. So my message to the Team of Unity was don’t listen to the speechwriters too much, stay with your own instincts.

Ahead the meeting with the Contact Group after the “elephants’” round in Vienna, one of the issues I raised was that as final the status continues to build momentum on speed and nears the recommendation from UNOSEK, things in Kosovo that perhaps we haven’t moved as far along become more and more important – north of Ibar. That issue becomes more and more important of how it exists today versus few years ago.

As final status becomes closer, while the resolution of status is continuing, this status quo (in the north) is no longer satisfactory so I spent a lot of time with Deputy Prime Minister (Lutfi Haziri), the Contact Group and I think it is very important that we start to describe the framework whatever the result of the final status. This framework is a transitional period north of the Ibar, perhaps separate municipality mayors from north Mitrovica, south Mitrovica and then international community still sits on top of that for a short period of time, 3 to 4 years, so that this part becomes better integrated into results of final status.

So I think it is very important we start describing this in a very responsible way so that it counters the political rhetoric of some of the leaders from the north.

Do you think a special UN mission will be installed in the north?
I wouldn’t call it a special UN or EU mission but a generic international community mission. International community would sit on top of that for a period of time to transition it into the local institutions however that’s described in the final status. I’m very careful to say that way because I don’t know what the final status is going to be, it’s not my decision, I participated in it time to time. I don’t fully know how this whole thing will look like but everyone understands that north of Ibar is significantly different than the south of Ibar. It’s been different for several years, this is the reality. As we get closer to the recommendation or decision by UNOSEK, I think it is very important to address in a responsible way the future. We’ve done a lot of things up here recently. We have some high-impact projects that will be working in the both sides of Ibar. We need to fix some things that deal with infrastructure issues. We have many international police there, up to 500 international police north of Ibar. We’ve got a lot of Kosovo Serb KPS up there. We’re making some fundamental changes in two border points, Gate 1 and Gate 31. I’m paying attention to that part because I am very concerned over some very irresponsible statements made by some of the appointed leadership north of Ibar.

When you spoke about the possibility of a new mission in the north, is the Negotiations Team aware of this?
Yes. I spoke to the Deputy Prime Minister. We had a good conversation on that. Look, it is time to lay out a framework. I’m not going to go into details. But, the framework is this: there will be some international presence that will sit on top of Mitrovica, it will be there for a transitional period, definite period of time. This is an important message because whatever the final status is, there is not this huge, abrupt, immediate change with the present situation we have in the north.

When I was in a visit in the north what I said is that one of the most terrible decisions ever influenced by Belgrade was the non-participation in the elections and as a consequence there are no responsible elected political leaders that would represent all the people. This has been a terrible mistake. They not only did not take part in the current governing structures, but the biggest problem now is that it is difficult to influence changes there, because you will have to deal with appointed leaders, very irresponsible: CCK and Milan Ivanovic.

I would rather deal with elected officials, with their agendas, their wishes, who are there to serve the people in the northern part of Ibar, without personal benefits and without personal agendas.

The reason I mentioned my visit there is that the entire rhetoric and all the energy of the appointed leadership in the north has to do with things completely separate from the needs and wishes of the people living there. This is a mistake, irresponsibility, and it should be improved.

Are there Albanian KPS members in the northern part of Kosovo?
There are in the cross-border areas, but not much in the police patrolling. Police patrolling is mainly carried out by Serbian KPS officers. I discussed this also with some war veterans’ groups in Kosovo. I explained to them that for me it makes sense that one of the lessons learned in the history of policing is that the best police patrols are carried out when police officers belong to that community. For me this is not any problem.

In its statement after the meeting of the ‘elephants’ the Contact Group stated that they are concerned over the situation in the north, with increase of Serbian illegal security structures, are you too concerned with what is happening in the north?
I am not sure that something is increasing there. What I am sure about is that there is an increase in political rhetoric and that some positions are being taken. This is causing a big concern. In June there was a huge setback because of some poor politicians.

The bully tactics from some people to pull the municipality leaders and influence some of their decisions are irresponsible.

I was recently there. It was my second or third trip there. I will soon go there again when I am back from New York (UN) and US. When I was last there I made a tour and talked to the kids in the pools, old people, mother, grandmothers, sons and daughters, I talked to men working in Leposavic, Zvecan…I asked all those I met which was their main concern in the northern part beyond Ibar and the answers I got were; employment, economic development not good, problems with infrastructure, sewage, electricity…No one, not a single one told me it is security.

How is Belgrade behaving with Serbs at this time?
I think that Belgrade can do much more. I would put Belgrade in this category; in my opinion Belgrade has possibilities and responsibilities to find responsible leaders in the northern part and instruct them not to do what they are doing now and to return to the situation before June’s statements. I do not know if Belgrade stands behind these actions, but Belgrade can correct and improve these actions. Therefore, in my opinion, Belgrade is responsible for what is happening there.

Is the international presence in a position to face with the situation if these leaders call on people to go out on the street and protest, demonstrate because they are not happy with the status process? If they take action that leads towards internal division of Kosovo?
There are two kinds of answers about this. First, KFOR is still here to maintain security and stability. So if there are actions that stir the calm and safe environment it should be counted on KFOR to be part of the solution. Second, I am doing my best to encourage Belgrade to help with these appointed leaders. I have been there often and I will go often. I think that UNMIK is doing a lot for this not to happen.

Have you responded to the letter by Prime Minister asking for more competencies?
Yes, I gave the letter with UNMIK’s answers in Friday’s meeting.

What competencies are mentioned there?
I think you should ask Prime Minister Çeku. It was his request. We answered in a responsible way to these requests.

Did you answer positively?
For most of the things he asked we offered the way on how to move forward and what should be done. Most of the things in his request, with a few exceptions, are really budgetary and fiscal issues that need to be solved. As you know there is a fixed budget in the Kosovo Consolidated Budget, if we add new competencies, new requests, then we have to direct them to other sources. This will mean that there will be decisions taken at the highest level of Government as to the way to relocate the funds within the current budget. This means there should be the consent of IMF which still plays a key role in determining a responsible budget and the expenditure way. Therefore we have adopted steps to be taken to address some of their requests.

Kosovo's prime minister warns of economic difficulties ahead

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Kosovo's prime minister warned Monday of social difficulties ahead in the economically depressed province even after its disputed status is resolved.

In his weekly radio address, Prime Minister Agim Ceku told Kosovo's citizens they should not believe that once the final status of the province -- which ethnic Albanians insist should be independence -- their economic worries will get solved.

"Problems will not be solved like with a magic wand," Ceku said. "It's important to be psychologically ready for the difficulties that will follow after the status has been resolved."

The province of 2 million has an estimated 50 percent unemployment rate and nearly as many living in poverty, making the province a potential social time-bomb.

The economy has mostly been kept afloat by international aid injected in different reconstruction projects, with Kosovo largely failing to attract foreign investment due to the unresolved political status and fears of instability.

The province is the poorest region in the Western Balkans with an annual gross domestic product per capita of around euro1,000 (US$1,300), according to European Union figures.

Formally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been under U.N. rule since mid-1999 when NATO's air war halted Serb forces crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

After over seven years of international administration, U.N.-brokered talks are under way to steer ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders toward finding a solution to Kosovo's disputed status, which Western envoys hope to wrap up by the end of the year.

So far, the province has not been able to work with the international financial institutions because of its unresolved international status.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Kosovo Must Have Own Army: International Crisis Group

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 28 July 2006: Independent Kosovo should be permitted its own army, despite Serb reservations, but it should be small, concentrated on performing international peacekeeping and developed and managed under NATO supervision.

An Army for Kosovo?,* the latest International Crisis Group report, explains the security and political reasons why the sovereign Kosovo expected to result from final status negotiations by early 2007 should be allowed such a force, to channel the old insurgent tradition of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and existing informal armed structures into official channels where they will not endanger either the new state or its neighbours.

Existing security structures must be placed under the control of the new institutions of democratic government, and an army – built in part upon the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), presently a civil emergency force but which incorporates much of the KLA legacy and is seen by Kosovo Albanians as an army-in-waiting – is an essential component. Paramilitary forces and those with links to organised crime must be closed down.

“If well managed, an army can help a new state develop a stable, multi-ethnic – or at least ethnically neutral – identity”, says Alex Anderson, Crisis Group’s Kosovo Project Director. “Every effort must be made to show Kosovo Serbs the new force is no threat to them and, over time to persuade them to join it in proportion to their numbers in society”.

Since NATO evicted Belgrade from the province in 1999, Kosovo has been run as a UN protectorate. When final status decisions are made in the next months, security needs, including the army question, are too sensitive to be excluded. NATO will provide fundamental protection for the new state for many years, but the accords should also specify its role in the army’s governance and a range of limitations on army numbers and capabilities – no more than 3,000 personnel, no tanks, heavy artillery, ground-to-ground missiles or attack aircraft.

The key members of the Contact Group guiding diplomacy, including the U.S., the UN Security Council and the UN’s Special Envoy, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari should introduce a legally or politically binding undertaking into the Kosovo final status determination on development of a small Kosovo defence force. The aim should be to graduate Kosovo into NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, together with Serbia, at which time that undertaking should be superseded by new treaty arrangements.

NATO peacekeepers should develop a closer partnership with the KPC, deepening and standardising the training relationship, and Kosovo’s government should build up its security policy capacity and budget for the creation of a defence ministry through 2007-2008.

“If the security pillar is downplayed in Kosovo, the state will be weakened”, says Nicholas Whyte, Director of Crisis Group’s Europe Program. “Kosovo has enough institutional weaknesses militating against its success already. It doesn’t need another”.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

KOSOVO: Going through the motions

Ian Traynor

July 27, 2006 12:58 PM

The Contact Group is one of those blandly-titled, anonymous committees of international officials and diplomats whose members are invisible and whose utterances often inscrutable. They also have the power to change the world we live in.

Once established, such committees are difficult to dismantle. Almost by a process of inertia, they tend to subsist quietly just in case they are needed for problems related or unrelated to the crisis whence they originally sprang.

The group in question, comprising officials from Europe, the US, and Russia, was initially created to inject a note of consensus into the cacophonous shambles that passed for international diplomacy in the Bosnian emergency of the mid-90s.

In the past year or so the Contact Group has been resurrected to grapple with what is probably the last piece of the post-Yugoslav jigsaw - carving an independent state of Kosovo out of the depressed wreckage of modern Serbia.

Last Monday at a Habsburg-era palais in Vienna, the leaders of Serbia and the (Albanian) leaders of Kosovo met for the first time since the Kosovo war of 1998-99 to grapple with the dilemma of what is to be Kosovo's status.

Predictably, there was no meeting of minds. The meeting itself was the message. Simply getting the rival leaders around the same table was a success for the Finnish fixer, Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland who is the special UN envoy for the Kosovo talks.

Sitting unobtrusively at the same table were several anonymous chaps from the Contact Group.

Of all the national and political conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart, Kosovo is probably the simplest and most intractable. Everywhere else - in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Macedonia, the conflicts were among and between southern Slavs who shared a language and a culture and often inter-married.

The Serbian-Kosovar conflict, by contrast, is starkly ethnic, between two quite distinct cultures of Orthodox Slav Serbs and nominally Muslim Albanians who have no intention of living together.

That there was no agreement in Vienna was a racing certainty in advance. There probably never will be. Does it matter? To the extent that a negotiated settlement agreed by the parties is infinitely preferable to a "solution" imposed from outside, the answer has to be yes.

But will it make any difference in the long run to what happens to Kosovo? Not really. This is because the script for the Vienna talks has essentially been written in advance by the diplomats of the Contact Group. To all intents and purposes, the broad outlines of the new Kosovo dispensation were determined even before the negotiations started in February. The negotiations are about putting flesh on the bones of the Contact Group blueprint, filling in the details and taking account of some, but only some, of what the local players have to say.

This makes for a strange negotiation. In eight rounds of talks, there has not been a semblance of agreement by both sides on issues such as how to decentralise government in Kosovo, how many municipalities there should be, how many and in what way ancient Serbian Orthodox monasteries and monuments should be protected.

And yet the UN mediators betray no sense of panic, no sense of urgency, no mood of desperation that things are going badly, no banging of heads and tables to try to force a deal.

This is because in many ways it is a phony negotiation, a going through the motions to try to avoid the unseemly impression that Kosovo's fate is being or already has been decided elsewhere.

The Contact Group's own papers and statements tell the story.

Before the negotiations started in Vienna in February, the group issued a binding set of "guiding principles" for the talks. Firstly, the negotiations could not be blocked and had to be concluded. That means that if the Serbs walk out, as they still could, no one will blink.

The future Kosovo will be multi-ethnic, with extensive rights and self-government for the Serbian minority. "There will be no changes in the current territory of Kosovo" and no partition, as the Serbs would like. That means the Serbs can't take a slice of Kosovo and it also banishes the romance of a so-called Greater Albania, with the Albanians of Kosovo merging with neighbouring Albania proper or with the Albanian majority in neighbouring western Macedonia.

And for the foreseeable future, Kosovo will need to remain an international trusteeship. On the military side, that task falls to Nato. On the civilian and policing side, the UN (running Kosovo since 1999) is to be supplanted by the EU. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, adds Kosovo to his expanding Balkan protectorate. In Brussels, that script too has already been written.

In January, also before the negotiations opened, a Contact Group statement declared that Kosovo would not return to the status of before March 1999 (ie before Nato's air war against Serbia) and warned Serbia that the settlement had "to be acceptable to the people of Kosovo".

Since 90 per cent of Kosovars are demanding nothing but independence, the outcome is pre-ordained. The Serbian leadership is aghast, crying foul at every opportunity, but has been slow to adapt to the new reality.

It is offering extensive home rule to Kosovo. This amounts to a bit more than what obtained in Kosovo under Tito's communist 1974 constitution until Slobodan Milosevic abolished these rights and liberties in the 1980s. In current circumstances, the Serbian offer is a non-starter. If ownership is nine-tenths of the law, the Kosovar Albanians (90% of the population) are home and dry.

In the January statement, the Contact Group said a negotiated settlement was "the best way forward". Implicit here is that it is not the only way forward.

In the absence of an agreement (almost certain), the agreement will be made for them; indeed, it already has been.

Albert Rohan, the retired Austrian diplomat who has been running the Vienna negotiations, said the other day that he did not expect the parties to reach a deal.

"In the autumn we will report to the UN security council on the result of the negotiations and then it's up to the security council to decide what to do."

Mr Rohan sounded quite unruffled. The Serbs, by contrast, were exciteable, demanding he be sacked and also hinting that the entire Ahtisaari mediation should be closed down.

What happens next? The likeliest scenario is that the talks remain deadlocked. Mr Ahtisaari pronounces this sad state of affairs to the security council in September.

The Contact Group then recommends that given the failure of the parties Mr Ahtisaari draw up "a comprehensive proposal for a status settlement" and the Finnish fixer redraws the map of the Balkans, establishing the first ever independent state of Kosovo, albeit an independence hedged with conditions and subject to international supervision.

The security council then rubberstamps the settlement. Last Monday the Contact Group reiterated that all this should be accomplished by the end of the year. "The process must be brought to a close."

Any agreement in Vienna will be a bonus, but not essential to the outcome. The negotiations are more about dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a script written by the Contact Group and Mr Ahtisaari.

Future Status of Kosovo - Frank G. Wisner

Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, U.S. Special Representative for Kosovo Status Talks
Press Availability with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu
Kosovo Assembly Building
July 27, 2006

President Fatmir Sejdiu (translated from Albanian): We had an outstanding meeting with Ambassador Wisner and the new leader of the USOP, Ms. Tina Kaidanow, whom I salute on the occasion. We talked about all the latest developments in the negotiation process, and especially about the last meeting in Vienna. And it was a joint estimation that the meeting was very important. We have often discussed our position on the future status of Kosovo, of course, in the presence of the international community and in the presence of both delegations. I thanked the U.S. for their engagement, and especially Mr. Wisner and the USOP, who continually support our work speeding up the process and helping keep it on the right track. We also hope that 2006 will be the year when our aspirations will come true. In this aspect, we as Kosovo's representatives will fully engage to be as constructive as possible, and negotiate for the status that is in the best interests of the citizens of Kosovo.

Ambassador Frank Wisner: Mr. President, thank you very much and my appreciation as well to the members of the unity team for the reception you gave me this morning. I also would like to join you and express my admiration for you Mr. President and to the entire unity team for the conduct of the discussions in Vienna. I believe they were successful, it was an historic occasion, a moment in history has been passed and the Albanian side was frank, respectful and restrained. I also have noted to my friends in Belgrade that they behaved and conducted these talks in a dignified manner. Now the busy time lies ahead, Mr. President and I know that the United States and your team will work closely together with President Ahtisaari, who has our full support to put in place the remaining issues that have to be settled so that a final status agreement can be reached before the end of 2006. That remains the goal of the United States Mr. President, as I assured your colleagues on the Unity Team, the political leaders of Kosovo and of you Sir yourself. But I would be wrong if I did not also underscore the commitment of the United States to one of the guiding principles of the Contact Group of Nations, articulated at the beginning of the negotiations. And that is the principle of Kosovo as an integral community and area, the principle of no partition of Kosovo, no change in the properly understood borders. That principle was articulated and will continue to guide the work of the Contact Group in the weeks and months ahead. It is a principle that is both respected in international practice of law, and is a political principle important to all nations in this western Balkan area. It is a principle that deals directly with the capability to maintain stability and peace and therefore is precious to us. Mr. President, with those brief remarks I want to thank you again for you hospitality and I am pleased today to be joined by my colleague, the Chief of our Mission, Ms. Kaidanow and we will all be working together in the common effort in the time ahead. Thank you sir.

Serbia's Ultranationalists Say Will Fight For Kosovo

BELGRADE (AP)--Serbia's ultranationalists warned Thursday they will "fight for Kosovo" in case the contested province gains independence at ongoing U.N.-brokered talks.

Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the increasingly popular Serbian Radical Party, said no leader in Serbia will accept Kosovo's independence.

"The whole world must know that," Nikolic declared. "Serbia will fight for Kosovo." He didn't elaborate.

Serbian and ethnic Albanian officials weren't immediately available for comment.

Kosovo is formally part of Serbia, but the province has been run by the U.N. since a 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization air war forced Belgrade to stop attacks against ethnic Albanian separatists and pull out of the region.

The talks to decide Kosovo's future status started early this year. Most analysts have predicted Kosovo might gain some form of independence, despite Serbia's opposition.

Nikolic acknowledged "if they want to take away Kosovo...from us," Belgrade cannot prevent that. He added "Serbia will be peaceful and stable as long as the talks are going on," but could explode in unrest in case of Kosovo independence.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica took part early this week in a face-to-face meeting with ethnic Albanian leaders in Vienna, Austria, as part of U.N.-brokered negotiations.

Both face a mounting challenge from the Radicals, who ruled together with late ex-nationalist leader, Slobodan Milosevic, in the next election in Serbia in 2007.

Also this week, the U.S. envoy for Kosovo talks, Frank Wisner, urged both Serbia and the ethnic Albanians to be more flexible and work together to find a compromise on Kosovo. [ 27-07-06 1557GMT ]

UNSC reportedly to vote on conditional independence for Kosovo

Text of report by Radio-Television Kosovo TV on 26 July

[Announcer] The UN Security Council will vote on special conditional independence [for Kosovo] in November this year, international sources have told RTK. UN special envoy for Kosovo status talks Martti Ahtisaari will recommend to the UN Security Council an imposed solution for Kosova [Kosovo], justifying this with the fact that the sides cannot reach a compromise on anything, the source said.

[Reporter] After the meeting of the top Pristina and Belgrade officials in Vienna, it is clear to the international community as to when and how Kosova's status will be solved. The source briefed RTK on the five point agenda for solving the Kosova issue.

1. Several high level meetings are foreseen in August and September. In September there will be another meeting of the elephants [Kosovo and Serbian leaders].

2. In November 2006 at a regular session of the United Nations, UN special envoy for Kosovo status talks Martti Ahtisaari will give his recommendation for Kosova's future status. Specifically, it is expected that sui generis independence will be proposed, or a special case which is expected to be approved by the members of the UN Security Council. However, this does not mean that the resolution will have immediate effect.

3. It is expected that after this UNMIK will enter the transitory phase to the international civilian mission. This phase will last at least six months, which means that the European Union will place its mission under the mandate of the United Nations, especially in the filed of justice, minorities and economy. During this time the finalizing of Kosova's new constitution is expected.

4. After this comes "Status Day" or the day UNMIK and Resolution 1244 expire and the implementation of the new status and new resolution start.

5. After this it is expected that elections will be announced and several basic laws changed.

According to the source, UN special envoy for Kosovo status talks Martti Ahtisaari has achieved its aim of bringing Albanians and Serbs into the game with the top meeting in Vienna. Ahtisaari will now recommend to the UN Security Council an imposed solution for Kosova, explaining that the sides cannot reach a compromise on anything.

Source: RTK TV, Pristina, in Albanian 1730 gmt 26 Jul 06

Kosovo: International prosecutor dismisses Mitrovica bridge incident case

Text of report by Radio-Television Kosovo TV website on 26 July

The international prosecutor launched a full investigation into the case of the injuring of the Kosova [Kosovo] Serb juvenile Miroslav Ilincic in an incident at the bridge in Mitrovica in 28 March 2006.

The prosecutor has now dismissed the case for lack of sufficient evidence to support the charges and the investigation will be dropped, said UNMIK spokesperson Neeraj Singh. The victim had been summoned and he refused to testify or participate in any way in the criminal investigation. None of the witnesses could offer reliable testimony and the only important eyewitness to the incident also refused to testify. Many attempts were made to encourage the witness and the victim to testify, Singh added. The only other evidence was the tape made by the video camera of the traffic police on the bridge, which was of poor quality and did not show anything that could help with the reconstruction of the incident, said Singh.

The Coordination Centre for Kosova has reacted to the prosecutor's decision to dismiss the case and has described it as scandalous.

If there is anything scandalous about the whole affair, it is the complete disregard of judicial principles, failure to cooperate in the investigation and then the outrageous attribution of various motives to the prosecutor's decision to dismiss the case. Justice is driven by evidence and unless people come forward and testify, justice cannot be delivered, Singh said. Not justice for Kosova, but anywhere in the world, UNMIK spokesperson Neeraj Singh concluded.

Source: RTK TV website, Pristina, in Albanian 26 Jul 06

U.S. envoy tells ethnic Albanians, Serbs to improve minority rights in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - The U.S. envoy to the Kosovo status talks on Thursday urged ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders to intensify efforts to improve the rights of the province's Serb minority.

During a visit to Kosovo, U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner said the two former foes need "to put in place a common vision, a practical and a realistic solution to the way forward for Kosovo."

Wisner met with the province's ethnic Albanian leaders a day after he appealed to Serbia's leadership for flexibility and compromise in resolving the dispute over the breakaway province.

Ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders met in Vienna, Austria, on Monday for the first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's status.

There was no breakthrough in those talks, with both sides entrenched in their positions -- the Serbs want Kosovo to remain within its borders, while the ethnic Albanians insist on independence.

"The job ahead of us today is to put in place the necessary elements of a final status package before we define the package," Wisner said. "That means realistic solutions to the outstanding issues of municipalities, churches, minorities and economics."

He also reiterated that Western countries supervising the process aim to resolve the province's status by the end of the year.

Most of the discussions since talks began have failed to produce a concensus.

The next round of talks is Aug. 7-8 and will deal with local reform and minority rights, a U.N. official said.

Kosovo has been run by United Nations and patrolled by NATO since mid-1999 when alliance's air war halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians and forced Serbia to relinquish control over it.

Some form of independence for Kosovo is the most likely outcome of the talks, but Western envoys are trying to steer the two sides toward improving the rights of the province's Serb minority, who live in guarded enclaves.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Balkan Choice

Morton Abramowitz, Mark Schneider, Wall Street Journal, 7/25/2006

At yesterday's negotiations between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders, Kosovars made clear that their goal is independence. Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica, earlier this month at the United Nations, spelled out his firm opposition. He needs to get a firm reply from the international community that Serbia can chose the past or the future. It can't have both.

Mr. Kostunica is carrying the late Slobodan Milosevic's message that Kosovo must remain a subordinate province of Serbia. But Milosevic is dead, the clock will not be turned back to 1999, and Serbia will have to accept an international consensus on Kosovo's final status.

The current Serbian leader needs to hear that if he continues to embrace the nationalism of Milosevic, he and his country will become international pariahs. If, however, he accepts the outcome of current negotiations—likely to be an independent nation limited largely by international guarantees to protect Serb minority rights—Serbia will have a future as part of the European Union and NATO.

During the past six years, a U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been administering the province after the NATO-led intervention ended Milosevic's ethnic cleansing. Now, day-to-day administration is largely in the hands of an elected provisional government. Working on meeting governance standards set by the UN—with the strong input of a Contact Group including the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, Italy and Germany—the government under Prime Minister Agim Ceku, once a feared Albanian underground military chief, has made progress.

Of course, Kosovar Albanians could help their own cause by reaching out even more to Kosovo's Serbs on issues of decentralization, protection for monasteries and refugee return. However, they met enough of the standards to get U.N. Security Council endorsement of final status negotiations led by U.N. special envoy and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

After nine months of shuttling in the region from his base in Vienna, Mr. Ahtisaari yesterday put the issues and options before the Serbian and Kosovo presidents and prime ministers. The talks made little progress. Another summit meeting is likely in September. It would be nice, but no one really expects Mr. Kostunica to actually embrace the separation of Kosovo and Serbia. It may be difficult—emotionally and politically—but the experience of the past 10 years, including Milosevic's attempted ethnic cleansing, have made anything less than independence totally unacceptable to the people of Kosovo.

The U.S. and other Contact Group countries are expected to endorse Mr. Ahtisaari's final proposal before the end of the year. It almost surely will be independence with continued NATO military presence and international guarantees to Kosovo's Serb minorities. Even if Mr. Kostunica continues to stonewall, it is likely that the Security Council will adopt it. While Russia is his strongest supporter, Moscow's main concern relates less to Serbia than to the Caucasus. They see the Kosovo status settlement as setting a precedent. Though Russia wants to hold on to rebellious Chechnya, it also wants a tool to slice Abkhazia and South Ossetia away from Georgia. Russia is trying to set down a marker, unacceptable to the West, that if Serbia is forced to give up a former province, Georgia can be made to suffer similar provincial surgery, even if no historical parallel exists.

Serbia's reactions to the negotiating process thus far have gone well past the point of passive resistance. Mr. Kostunica strongly opposed independence for Montenegro which took place last month. Belgrade has pumped up the return-to-Serbia movements in the northern three Kosovo municipalities and in the adjoining divided city of Mitrovica, where 40% of Kosovo's Serbs live. Serbia has obliged Kosovo Serbs to boycott the U.N.-backed provisional government, recently making all teachers and health workers tear up their government contracts. Instead, Serbia finances parallel structures of government, through which the northern municipalities have begun raising a paramilitary force. Serbia also maintains plainclothes police in Kosovo, in defiance of the 1999 Security Council Resolution that introduced U.N. administration into Kosovo.

Belgrade's separatist support seeks to present a de facto partition on the ground to the final status negotiators, despite the Contact Group principles endorsed by the U.N. of a unified, multi-ethnic Kosovo with no partition, no boundary changes, no return to pre-1999.

The international community, particularly the leaders of the Contact Group countries, must make it clear to Serb leaders that obstructionist tactics are unacceptable. NATO forces will stay to guarantee the final status outcome, and there will be international monitoring to assure human rights are protected.

Serbia will be better off "in Europe," living in peace with a new Kosovo than futilely inciting Kosovo Serbs to challenge the final status outcome. The world's message to Mr. Kostunica should be simple: choose the future, and allow Kosovo and Serbia to join Europe.

Mr. Abramowitz is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a trustee of the International Crisis Group, where Mr. Schneider is senior vice president. This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal-Europe on July 25, 2006.

US envoy says Kosovo solution may not be acceptable to both Belgrade, Pristina

Text of report by Serbian independent news agency FoNet

Belgrade, 26 July: Special US envoy for Kosovo negotiations Frank Wisner said today that the solution for Kosovo's future status may not be acceptable for both Belgrade and Pristina, but he added that the protection of Serbs and other minorities was of key importance during this process.

Wisner described the talks between the most prominent Belgrade and Pristina representatives in Vienna on Monday [24 July] as a historic event, expressing the hope that the decision on Kosovo's final status would be made by the end of the year.

Source: FoNet news agency, Belgrade, in Serbian 0923 gmt 26 Jul 06

U.S. envoy optimistic over Kosovo talks

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - The U.S. envoy for Kosovo status talks said Wednesday he was optimistic that a solution can be found for the troubled province at ongoing U.N.-brokered talks.

U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner urged the Serb and ethnic Albanian delegations in the negotiations to be flexible.

"Both the Serbian side and the Kosovo Albanian side should look toward future negotiations, be flexible and work toward a compromise in order to be able to reach a realistic solution," Wisner said at the end of his visit to Belgrade.

The negotiations to determine the future status of Kosovo began early this year, under U.N. mediation. The province's ethnic Albanians insist on independence from Serbia, while Belgrade wants to keep the province within the republic's boundaries.

On Monday, the presidents and prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo met face-to-face for the first time since the start of the negotiations. The meeting was considered crucial, although the two sides remained entrenched in their positions.

Wisner described the top-level meeting in Vienna as a "historic event ... of tremendous importance for all of us who seek a solution for the future of Kosovo."

He added he had received assurances from both Serbia's President, Boris Tadic, and Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, that they will attend the future meetings as well.

"It is important that any solution (for Kosovo) provide protection for Serbs and other minorities, and fall within the context of a successful, progressive and democratic Kosovo," he said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Serbia without Kosovo

All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.
Serbia is feeling aggrieved, and with good reason. When North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets bombed the country in 1999, Western leaders insisted they were not taking the side of the Kosovo rebels in the ethnic conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. They were merely trying to halt the ethnic cleansing being carried out by Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Seven years later, though, most Western governments argue that Kosovo's independence is a fait accompli. Serbia, they argue, should get on with life and let Kosovo go its own way. They may not have bombed Serbia to back Kosovo separatism, but that has been the result of their intervention.

Serbia's feelings are easy to understand. It has seen its predominance in the former Yugoslavia erased and its own territory whittled away, most recently by the decision of Montenegro to declare independence. Kosovo forms 15 per cent of its remaining territory. To Serb nationalists, it is sacred ground, the birthplace of Serbian nationhood and the site of scores of historic Orthodox monasteries. About 100,000 Serbs still live there, an embattled minority in a population of two million, 90 per cent of which is Albanian. As Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica bluntly puts it, “Kosovo is part of Serbia.” He is willing to offer only autonomy. Independence, he insists, would be “illegal and worthless.”

But whatever the force of Serbian feeling or strength of its attachment to Kosovo, things have moved on. In the real world, Kosovo is no longer part of Serbia. Serbian troops left in 1999, forced out at the end of the NATO bombing campaign. Something like 10,000 Albanians were killed in the fighting that year and 800,000 forced to flee their homes. The Albanians of Kosovo are close to unanimous in their determination never to live under Belgrade's yoke again. It is impossible to imagine them accepting a return to Serbian control even under the most generous form of autonomy.

So Mr. Kostunica has a choice to make. If he insists on pursuing the impossible dream of retaking Kosovo, his country will remain isolated in Europe. If he agrees to move on, Serbia would be welcomed onto the path of membership in the European Union, as would Kosovo, which has lived in an unworkable limbo since 1999. Granting Kosovo its independence would allow it to emerge from its uncomfortable status as a United Nations protectorate and build a new nation. In return for recognizing that status, Serbia would be within its rights to demand maximum protection for the Serb minority and for Serb cultural sites.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter — and Serbia has the right to feel wronged — Kosovo is gone. Belgrade has no choice but to accept it.

U.S. envoy urges Serbian officials to be more flexible in Kosovo talks

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A U.S. envoy for Kosovo status talks on Tuesday urged Serbian officials to be more flexible in negotiations over the future of the breakaway province, officials said.

Frank Wisner also said that U.N.-brokered negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina over the contested region, should "continue and intensify," according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's office.

Wisner visited Belgrade a day after top ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders met in Vienna, Austria, for the first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's status.

During the talks, both sides remained entrenched in their opposing positions: the Serbs want Kosovo to remain within its borders, while the Kosovo Albanians only want independence.

In his meetings with Serbian officials, Wisner urged "Belgrade to play a constructive role in the ongoing negotiations to ensure a peaceful, democratic Kosovo that protects the rights of all its residents," a U.S. Embassy statement said.

Kostunica reiterated that Serbia "would not allow that a new Albanian state be created on 15 percent of its territory," the statement from the premier's office said.

It quoted Kostunica as praising the "readiness to talk," and insisting that Serbia was ready to grant a "truly substantial autonomy" for Kosovo.

Wisner was expected to relay a similar message to ethnic Albanian negotiators when he visits Kosovo. A date has not been announced, but he will probably visit the province within the next couple of days.

Western envoys hope to finish the negotiations by the end of 2006.

The most likely outcome of the talks is some form of independence for Kosovo -- on the condition Kosovo can protect Serbs and other minorities in the ethnic Albanian majority province.

Serbia has no authority over the province it considers the cradle of its statehood and religion. The United Nations has administered Kosovo since a 1999 NATO air war to halt a Serb crackdown on separatist Albanians.

Kosovo president says guarantees for Serbs offered at Vienna meeting

Text of interview with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu broadcast by Radio-Television Kosovo TV on 24 July

[Announcer] We have our special reporter Nebi Qena live from Vienna interviewing Kosova [Kosovo] President Fatmir Sejdiu. Nebi, what is the news from Vienna?

[RTK special reporter Nebi Qena] The meeting happened today, it has been called by international and local people the meeting of elephants because elephants are animals that move with difficulty. They move from their position with difficulty just as the Kosovar and Serbian delegations did today. With me here is Kosova President Fatmir Sejdiu who led today's meeting for the Kosova side. Mr President, thank you for being here today. You were the head of the Kosova negotiation team at today's first meeting between the top Kosovar and Serbian officials. During the press conference there was a conviction that the meeting did not bring any movement of position and it is not expected that there will be any breakthrough between the two sides.

[President Sejdiu] I believe that the stances are very clear. We said in Prishtina [Pristina], and are saying it here today, that the Kosovar delegation has one mandate that was given to it by the Kosova Assembly and the political will of the people of Kosova for the independence of Kosova, and naturally any other option or variation of this opposes the will of the people and is absolutely unacceptable to us. We have offered our vision before the international community with the Serbian delegation present, where we argued our points why Kosova has to be independent, starting from the first point: that Kosova has a right to self-determination, which is a constitutional right and an international right, taking into consideration all the other developments that happened earlier in Kosova, and the ones that have been happening over the last few years. We want to build a Kosova with a vision for the future, a Kosova ruled by law, a democratic country based on democratic principles, a state where all citizens will be equal, including all the minorities. We offered here our guarantees for the Serb minority, but also for other minorities that want to be part of everyday life and be integrated in Kosova.

[Reporter] The Serbian side said that the arguments of the Kosovar side are not sustainable and they insist that the best solution is substantial autonomy for Kosova.

[Sejdiu] These are options or visions that we have already heard in the past; this is clear and can be deciphered with one answer. The Serbian side insists that they rule and govern over us, while we insist that we rule ourselves. We have placed these arguments before the international community and we have to see the weight of these arguments.

[Reporter] When we talk about governing Kosova, governing over the Serb minority is also understood, which is the main worry of the international community. What are the guarantees of the Kosova delegation for ensuring the rights of the Serb minority?

[Sejdiu] I firstly would like to say that we have had our test during the previous Vienna meetings. Some issues were initiated by the international community and were agreed on by both sides. One was reform in local government, the second was cultural heritage, and some economic aspects that I would call the normal succession of a country. In this respect, as you know, the vision we have offered involves an affirmative approach towards the Serb minority, with a possibility of decision-making at the local level, but without bringing up the issue of intercommunications that would in a way bring about the formation of third parallel structures or the exclusion of Kosova institutions in this direction. Our approach is that we truly want an affirmative integration of the Serb community in the central institutions. This takes into consideration that our initiative and the work we have done in Kosova and the current acts that have been passed since the war in forming the institutions based on the vote of the people of Kosova are based on international standards which will be under the supervision of the international community, for which we have instead to have a light presence of the international community on our future path.

[Reporter] How long will this period be, given the fact that there have been suggestions that the resolution of Kosova's status will be left until next year? Do you agree with this, do the people of Kosova agree with this?

[Sejdiu] Absolutely not, any delay would be dangerous. We have received support from the conclusions of the Contact Group and the countries that have immense influence in the UN Security Council, where it has been insisted that 2006 will be the year of defining the status of Kosova, which will result in independence for Kosova. In this respect I would like to say that any delay would only prolong, or better said it would be an approach that would only have negative effects in Kosova, but also in the region. We truly want to contribute to this process to prove that we are an important regional factor of stability.

[Reporter] Mr President, thank you very much.

Source: RTK TV, Pristina, in Albanian 1730 gmt 24 Jul 06

Monday, July 24, 2006

Picture of the Day: Kosovo Marching Towards Independence

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu (left front), leader of the opposition Hashim Thaci (right front), Jetemir Balaj, member of the delegation (back left) and Muhamet Hamit (back right) arrive for a high level meeting of representatives of Serbia and Kosovo, on Monday, July 24, 2006, in Vienna.

Contact Group statement on Kosovo

The Contact Group, EU and NATO observed the first round of direct talks on Kosovo’s status in Vienna on 24 July 2006, under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica represented Belgrade; the Team of Unity, led by President Fatmir Sejdiu, represented Pristina. Today’s meeting was an important step in the process of resolving this key issue.
The Contact Group reaffirms its commitment to the status process envisaged in UNSCR 1244, to the Guiding Principles and to the position set out in the 31 January Ministerial Statement. The Contact Group thanks President Ahtisaari and his team for their commitment to and leadership of the status process, and supports his decision to move to this next important phase, which we believe should lead to the development of a comprehensive proposal for a status settlement. We commend both parties for their willingness to discuss directly the key status issue, and look forward to constructive engagement, flexibility and willingness on both sides to reach realistic compromise-based solutions. We welcome the continuation, in parallel with the status talks, of negotiations on the protection of religious heritage sites, decentralisation and economic issues, and underline the importance of broadening the agenda to other key issues such as community protection measures.
The Contact Group commends the UN Special Envoy’s efforts to develop proposals which would provide a strong basis for a democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo in which the rights of all citizens are fully protected. It is in the interests of both Belgrade and Pristina to listen thoughtfully to each other’s proposals and find realistic common ground. In this context the Contact Group shares President Ahtisaari's view that both sides need to do more in all aspects of the process in order to achieve this goal.
The Contact Group notes that Pristina has shown flexibility in the decentralisation talks. However, Pristina will need to be even more forthcoming on many issues before the status process can be brought to a successful conclusion. We also emphasise the need for further progress in implementing standards.
Belgrade needs to demonstrate much greater flexibility in the talks than it has done so far. Belgrade needs to begin considering reasonable and workable compromises for many of the issues under discussion, particularly decentralisation. The Contact Group renews its call on Belgrade to cease obstruction of Kosovo-Serb participation in Kosovo's institutions, in which Kosovo-Serbs can most effectively advocate their interests; to reverse the directive on salaries; and to hand over cadastral records.
One of the central aims of the international community is to create conditions in Kosovo where all communities can live in a multi-ethnic society. In order to be able to create these conditions, the full support of Serbia is of vital importance. The Contact Group notes with concern the situation in northern Kosovo, in particular the move in three municipalities to break ties with the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), and reports of personnel increases in illegal parallel security structures. We call upon both communities to exercise restraint and mutual understanding at this sensitive stage of the negotiations and to cooperate fully with UNMIK, KFOR and the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) in their work to provide a secure environment in all parts of Kosovo. In this context we welcome NATO’s deployment of additional forces into northern Kosovo. There will be no partition of Kosovo or other arrangements that would create new divisions.
The Contact Group reaffirms that all possible efforts should be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006 that is, inter alia, acceptable to the people of Kosovo and promotes a multi-ethnic society with a future for all of its citizens. As set out in the Guiding Principles, once negotiations are underway, they can not be allowed to be blocked. The process must be brought to a close, not least to minimise the destabilising political and economic effects of continuing uncertainty over Kosovo’s future status. The Contact Group will monitor the extent of constructive engagement on the part of both parties, and will draw conclusions accordingly.
We firmly believe that a status settlement in Kosovo will enhance regional stability and pave the way for the European and Euro-Atlantic perspectives for Serbia, Kosovo and the region as a whole. We reaffirm the international community’s willingness to establish appropriate international structures, to be endorsed by the UN Security Council, in order to help ensure implementation of and compliance with the status settlement’s provisions in a safe and secure environment. The Contact Group stands ready to assist with the implementation of a new international office that would be responsible for supporting and supervising the implementation of the status settlement. We welcome initial planning underway within NATO for the continuation of the international military presence in Kosovo following a status settlement. Equally, we welcome planning activities underway within the EU to determine the EU’s role after the status settlement, in particular through a robust policing and rule of law mission, and the practical means to realise Kosovo’s European perspective.

Serbia's Intransigence - The Washington Post

Rather than join the Europe of the 21st century, the country's leaders cling to a failed nationalism.
Monday, July 24, 2006; A18

SEVEN YEARS after a U.S.-led NATO military campaign freed the Balkan province of Kosovo from the oppressive rule of Serbia, a firm Western consensus has formed about its future: It should be granted independence before the end of this year, perhaps under an international trusteeship. Both Kosovo and Serbia, along with adjacent republics of the former Yugoslavia, would then be guided toward full membership in the European Union. That way, the ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population would never again be ruled from Belgrade, which conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them in 1999; but Serbs who regard Kosovo as part of their national heritage could expect to be reunited with it under a European umbrella, while consolidating a liberal democracy in their own country.

This forward-looking vision seems to have a powerful appeal in the region. Polls show it is supported by an overwhelming majority of Kosovo Albanians. A survey reported by the Belgrade press last week showed that Serbs would vote for E.U. membership by 59 to 12 percent, while a plurality believe independence is the most realistic solution for Kosovo. Only 21 percent of Serbs say Kosovo is their most pressing concern. The problem, as so often during the past 20 years, is Serbia's political leadership, which remains addicted to the poisonous nationalism that drove the country into a series of disastrous wars during the 1990s.

Deaf to the increasingly blunt messages of Western governments and to his own public opinion, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica continues to stubbornly campaign for continued Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. "Kosovo is part of Serbia," he declared during a visit to Washington this month, sounding disturbingly like Slobodan Milosevic, who used that slogan to found his nationalist regime in the late 1980s. Mr. Kostunica has been telling Western leaders that he wants his country to join the European Union and NATO, but he has repeatedly failed to meet a critical condition for moving forward, which is the arrest of Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, a former general who is a hero to extreme nationalists.

Boris Tadic, the more liberal-minded president, has taken a somewhat softer line, agreeing last week to participate in face-to-face U.N.-sponsored talks with Kosovo's leaders in Vienna today. But Mr. Tadic has resorted to repeating veiled threats that independence for Kosovo could cause demands for border changes elsewhere in Europe -- beginning in neighboring Bosnia, where ethnic Serbs dream of adding territories they control to Serbia. That gambit has been embraced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has threatened to use the example of Kosovo to legitimize Moscow-backed separatist regimes in Georgia and Moldova.

All of this means that the West's attempt to resolve the legacy of the Balkan wars of the 1990s and position the region inside the liberal Europe of the 21st century is in jeopardy of being defeated by Serbia's 20th-century-style nationalism and Russia's 19th-century game of power politics. If so, the main victims will be not the Albanians of Kosovo -- who in any case will never again be subject to Serbia -- but the Serbs, who could find themselves isolated in Europe and dependent on the patronage of an autocratic and imperialistic Russia. The country remains, at least, a democracy: There remains the hope that, if its leaders cannot adjust, its people will eventually choose better leaders.

Kosovo independence inevitable, says EU stability pact chief

BERLIN, July 24, 2006 (AFP) -

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians will win their bid for independence of the province, the special coordinator of the stability pact for the Balkans, Erhard Busek, said on Monday.

"It is without doubt a long-term process, but at the end it will lead to independence," Busek told Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders met in Vienna on Monday for their first face-to-face talks since NATO aerial bombing drove Serbian forces from the province in 1999.

Busek said: "It is a success that this meeting is taking place at all."

Ethnic Albanians, who make up the majority of the province, want independence but Belgrade and Kosovo's minority Serb community say the region is the cradle of the Serb nation and cannot be allowed to break away.

In a separate interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk radio, Busek said the Serb position "did not reflect the realities of today".

"The ethnic Albanians of Kosovo believe independence is already a reality. But on the Serb side they are defending the not very realistic viewpoint that things can continue as they were before," Busek said.

The stability pact was created by the European Union in 1999 to reinforce the stability in the Balkans after the conflicts of the 1990s.

Kosovo premier reiterates independence demand

Text of report by Belgrade-based B-92 TV on 24 July

[Presenter] Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu has said that independence is the alpha and omega, i.e., the beginning and end of everything, which Prime Minister Agim Ceku has confirmed.

[Ceku, speaking in Serbian] Independence, full independence, full sovereignty, but for all citizens. For all the citizens of Kosovo.

[Reporter] Is that possible?

[Ceku] It is certainly possible. Just let us do this, and we will make it happen.

Source: B92 TV, Belgrade, in Serbian 1400 gmt 24 Jul 06

Ethnic Albanians, Serb leaders far apart on Kosovo's future

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Top ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders were divided as ever Monday during their first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's future.

Ethnic Albanians arrived at the unprecedented talks, held in a Vienna palace, insisting that their tiny province be independent. Serbs said they were we ready to offer broad autonomy, but wanted to keep Kosovo within Serbian borders.

"It is evident that the positions of the parties remain far apart," U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari told a news conference. "Belgrade would agree to almost anything but independence, whereas Pristina would accept nothing but full independence."

Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, said he saw no signs of a breakthrough in the daylong meeting, but also had not expected one.

"This is the first meeting of this kind," he said. "The idea of this meeting was to give the parties an opportunity to present their case."

The delegations provided their well-known arguments to reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the meeting that his country would not accept another state to be created on 15 percent of its territory. Serbia claims Kosovo is the heart of its kingdom, and the medieval cradle of their statehood.

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu countered that independence was "the beginning and end of our position," and that the will of the province's ethnic Albanian majority could not be negotiated. Kosovo has said Serbia lost its right to govern the province after its former leadership sparked a war in which an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians died.

Kosovo's status was last formally discussed in 1999 at the height of the war that pitted Serbian troops loyal to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Those talks, held in France, ended with no results, after which a 78 days of NATO air attacks that forced an end to the Serb crackdown and put Kosovo under U.N. administration for the past seven years.

While violence has ebbed, the ethnic Albanian majority -- 90 percent of the province's 2 million population -- and its Serbian minority remain deeply divided over the future.

The U.N.-brokered talks are aimed at steering both sides toward a solution by year's end. Before Monday, the talks were held at experts' level, with proposals tabled on enhancing Serb minority rights.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic told the news conference after the meeting that the two sides' differences were substantial.

"We are flexible and we are for a compromise, but the compromise does not include independence," Tadic said, but added that Serbia not resort to violence in defending its interest.

Kostunica told reporters that independence for Kosovo would violate the U.N. charter that guarantees the sovereignty of states. "If that piece of paper is violated, things all over the world will be destabilized," he said.

Kosovo's Sejdiu said independence was key for Kosovo's future, given its past.

"We had a bitter past with bad solutions that culminated into a war, which had tragic consequences for our people and those of the region," he told reporters. "The future of Kosovo is its full independence, which is the majority's will."

Ethnic Albanian leader Veton Surroi said it was "fairly improbable that there will be a negotiated solution," given the intransigence of both sides.

The six-nation Contact Group -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- supervising the process urged both sides to engage constructively and show flexibility and willingness to reach "realistic compromised-based solutions."

The group has set guidelines for the talks, however, including rejections of the province's return to Belgrade's control or of its partition or unification with other regional countries. It also has said the solution should be acceptable to Kosovo's people.

Albanian premier hails Pristina-Belgrade talks

Text of report in English by Albanian news agency ATA

Tirana, 24 July: Prime Minister Sali Berisha greeted on Monday [24 July] the top level meeting between Prishtina [Pristina] and Belgrade as an important event for these two countries and the region.

According to a statement by the Press Office of the Council of Ministers, Berisha expressed the conviction that there exist all the possibilities for a solution observing the rights of the citizens of Kosova [Kosovo] as well as the rights and freedoms of the minorities as well.

Source: ATA news agency, Tirana, in English 1723 gmt 24 Jul 06

Kosovo bids for independence; talks deadlocked

VIENNA, July 24 (Reuters) - Kosovo formally made its pitch for independence face-to-face with Serbia on Monday at their first top-level talks on the issue since NATO bombs drove out Serb forces in 1999.

The one-day meeting in Vienna placed the Albanian majority's demand for independence on the agenda of a U.N.-led mediation process that began in February, seven years since the West intervened to halt a wave of ethnic cleansing and the United Nations took control.

U.N. mediators conceded the two sides remained "far apart".

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian President Fatmir Sejdiu said independence was "the beginning and end of our position." "The will for independence cannot be ignored or negotiated away."

Serb leaders again offered "substantial autonomy".

It was the first time the presidents and prime ministers of both sides had held direct talks since Serbia's 1998-99 war with ethnic Albanian guerrillas. Some 10,000 Albanian civilians died and 800,000 fled, marking the culmination of a decade of Serb repression under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Seven turbulent years later, the West says Kosovo's economic and political limbo is unsustainable. It wants a settlement within the year, which diplomats say will likely bring some form of independence with or without Serbian consent.

"Belgrade would agree to anything but independence," U.N. chief mediator Martti Ahtisaari told a news conference after the meeting. "Pristina would accept nothing but independence."

There were no handshakes, and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica opted out of a joint lunch with the Kosovo delegation, which included two former guerrillas.

"It was business-like," one U.N. official said of the talks.


Ahtisaari had played down hopes of a breakthrough, given what diplomats say is an unbridgeable chasm between the two sides. Some 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people are Albanians who reject any return to Serb rule.

But Serbia sees Kosovo as its "Jerusalem", the cradle of Serbdom and home to scores of centuries-old Orthodox churches.

Kostunica, who says independence would drive Serbian voters into the arms of ultranationalists, said Belgrade "cannot accept the creation of a new state from 15 percent of its territory."

Too late, argued Kosovo negotiator Veton Surroi. "After everything we've been through, it is unrealistic to discuss modalities of autonomy. Kosovo will go its own way."

Ahtisaari opened lower-level direct talks in February on the rights of 100,000 Serbs still in Kosovo, with little success.

Diplomats say the major powers see little alternative to independence. Despite the deadlock, the European Union is going ahead with plans to take on a policing and supervising role.

The United States is pushing hard for a deal in 2006, concerned that delay could spark fresh violence in a territory patrolled by 17,000 NATO soldiers. Russia, a veto holder in the U.N. Security Council and traditional ally of Serbia, has cautioned against any "artificial timetable".

Half the Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks in 1999. Many who stayed live in isolated enclaves, and view the prospect of independence from Serbia with increasing trepidation. The mainly Serb north has threatened partition.

Hundreds rally in Kosovo capital against talks on final status in Vienna

Text of report in English by independent internet news agency KosovaLive

Prishtina [Pristina], 24 July: At the time when the Kosova [Kosovo] representatives were meeting with their Serbian counterparts in Vienna, hundreds of Kosova citizens protested today in Prishtina, saying that there is nothing to be negotiated with Serbia, because of the crimes it has committed in Kosova.

They also said that the decision of the Negotiating Team to go to Vienna is not in accordance with the will of the Kosovar people.

The protest was organized by the Self-Determination Movement, UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army] War Association, LPK [Kosovo Popular Movement], LKCK [National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo], "Mothers' Calls" Association, 26 March 1999 Organization, and Llap [Lab] Civic Initiative.

Self-Determination Movement Leader Albin Kurti said that the difference between the Albanian politicians that are taking part in these talks is that "some of them are lying [to] us for 17 years and some of them are lying us for seven".

"Their lie is the same that the independence is coming, the independence is inevitable, and that we just have to wait and to be patient, whereas they do not care that this patience is dehumanization, degradation for us," said Kurti.

He criticized the Kosova delegation for going to Vienna, adding that there are many elements which show whether Kosova has won its independence or not.

Kurti said that as the first element is that Kosova does not have an army, adding that if you do not have an army and talk to the enemy, then you are asking for mercy.

"Our politicians are asking for this mercy from the enemy, while the international mediators are disguising this begging," said Kurti.

According to him, the status talks in Vienna are dividing Kosova's territory, adding that the Kosovar politicians are not aware of this.

Meanwhile, activist Adem Demaci also attended today's protest, calling on the citizens to raise their voice against these misleading negotiations.

Source: KosovaLive website, Pristina, in English 24 Jul 06


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Kosovo to seek independence in top-level talks

By Beti Bilandzic

VIENNA (Reuters) - Kosovo stakes its claim to independence on Monday at top-level talks between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, the first since NATO's 1999 air war wrested control of the province from Serbia.

The one-day meeting in Vienna formally puts the international status of the majority Albanian province -- independence or autonomy -- on the agenda of a U.N.-led mediation process that began in February.

The presidents and prime ministers of both sides will talk face-to-face for the first time since the West intervened to drive out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing and the United Nations took control.

Concrete results are unlikely, given what diplomats say is an unbridgeable chasm between the two sides. Ninety percent of Kosovo's 2 million people are Albanians who reject any return to Serb rule, while Serbia sees Kosovo as for ever its "Jerusalem".

U.N. chief mediator Martti Ahtisaari has played down hopes of a breakthrough on Monday. He is working to a year-end deadline set by the West for proposing a settlement, but six months of lower-level direct talks on the rights of the 100,000 Serbs still in Kosovo have produced few signs of compromise.

Ahtisaari's spokeswoman, Hua Jiang, said the meeting would give both sides the chance to "formally present and clarify their positions."

"We all know what the positions are, and they are far, far apart," said Jiang. A second round at this level is uncertain.

Diplomats say the major powers see little alternative to independence, supervised for years by the European Union.

The United States is pushing hard for a deal in 2006, concerned that delay could spark fresh violence in a territory patrolled by 17,000 NATO soldiers. Russia, a veto holder in the U.N. Security Council and traditional ally of Serbia, has cautioned against any "artificial timetable".

NATO bombed the Serbs for 78 days in 1999 to halt civilian killings and ethnic cleansing by forces under late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas. Some 10,000 Albanians died, 800,000 were expelled.

But Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of Serbdom, home to scores of centuries-old Orthodox churches. Belgrade is offering autonomy. "The sooner the dangerous idea of creating a new state on Serbian territory is forgotten the better for all," Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on Saturday.

Half of Kosovo's Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks after the war and many of those who stayed live on the margins of society, targeted by sporadic violence.

The mainly Serb north of Kosovo has threatened partition, but the West fears this would revive territorial ambitions among Albanians in neighboring southern Serbia and Macedonia.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kosovo UN force to boost northern presence

Text of report by Radio-Television Kosovo TV website on 21 July

According to Kfor Kosovo Un Force], a 650-strong battalion of the German army that is part of the NATO Operational Reserve Force is on the way to Kosova [Kosovo] as part of the operation that will demonstrate decisiveness and dedication of the NATO mission in Kosova. Kfor has also announced that it will boost its presence in northern Kosova, to ensure the people of Kosova on the dedication that NATO has to ensure security and stability in the region. Disembarkation of troops in Kosova confirms NATO's ability to strengthen its troops on the field within a short time period. The German battalion - ORF are mission ready and are logistically self sustained, they will also be ready to very quickly get acquainted with the terrain and the environment.

Source: RTK TV website, Pristina, in Albanian 1044 gmt 21 Jul 06

UN, NATO must isolate north Kosovo from Serbia: PM

PRISTINA, Serbia, July 22, 2006 (AFP) -

The prime minister of Kosovo on Saturday called on the province's UN administration to increase security on its northern border to isolate it from Serbia proper.

"KFOR (NATO peacekeepers) and (the UN administration) UNMIK have to undertake measures in order to isolate this part (of Kosovo) from Serbia, politically and practically, and establish such measures on the border which are the same as on the rest of the Kosovo borders," PM Agim Ceku said.

He was speaking before attending UN-sponsored talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders in Vienna on Monday, the first such meeting since the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.

The one-day meeting in Vienna, chaired by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, is expected to tackle for the first time the core issue of Kosovo's future status and the ethnic Albanians' demands for full independence.

Ceku said the border between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia was so "soft" that visitors did not believe that it was a border at all, believing instead that the border is on the Ibar river, which runs through the volatile and ethnicly-divided town Kosovska Mitrovica.

The river separates and marks the boundary between the biggest Serb-populated area in northern Kosovo with about 60,000 inhabitants and about two million ethnic Albanians in the rest of the UN-administered Serbian province.

One of the toughest issues at the talks is the issue of northern Kosovo,

where Serbs have been calling for the partition of the province.

Serbs warn that this region along the border with Serbia proper would secede if independence was granted to Pristina.

In June, Serbs in the north proclaimed a "state of emergency", cutting off their relations with the Kosovo institutions, a move considered to be a first step towards the partition of the province.

The decision, strongly opposed by the Kosovo Albanian and UN authorities, came after a series of small-scale attacks against Serbs, including a murder of a young Serb man.

Kosovo, legally still a province of Serbia, has been run by the UN and NATO since mid-1999, when the military alliance's air war drove out forces loyal to then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic over a crackdown against the province's separatist ethnic Albanian majority.

The international mission in Kosovo has failed to enforce its mandate in the Serb-dominated north and to sever Belgrade's influence.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

UNSC set to break Kosovo status quo

With talks between Belgrade and Pristina over Kosovo's final status set to fail, the UNSC is ready to make the decision itself by the year's end, a diplomat says.

By Ekrem Krasniqi in Brussels for ISN Security Watch (20/07/06)

If Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders and the authorities in Belgrade fail to reach an agreement over the status of Serbia's UN-administered province of Kosovo by the end of the year, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will make the decision on its own, an EU diplomat told ISN Security Watch.

And Kosovo's independence looks like a done deal, especially with Russia seemingly on board at the UNSC, though not without its own game plan.

UN-mediated Kosovo status talks between Belgrade and Pristina are expected to take place later this month, but EU diplomats in Brussels have said that if the two sides failed to reach an agreement, the UNSC would step in and make it for them.

"The Contact Group prefers an agreed solution," but if that does not happen, "then the Security Council will have to take up its responsibilities," a European diplomat told ISN Security Watch on condition of anonymity.

UN special envoy for Kosovo talks, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, is trying to organize the first high-level meeting between Kosovo and Serb leaders in Vienna on 24 July, hoping to bring in Serbian President Boris Tadic, who has already agreed to attend, and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has not net responded, and their counterparts from Kosovo, Fatmir Sejdiu and Agim Ceku.

The meeting in Vienna would open the second phase of the talks on the future of Kosovo.

Since the beginning of the year, negotiations on decentralization (the creation of more municipalities for the Serbian minority and the shift of power from the central government to municipal authorities), the economy (the privatization of Kosovo's enterprises, property rights, citizens savings, pensions, etc) and culture (ensuring the cultural heritage and religious sites of Serbs) failed to bring about any significant results.

But even if partial agreement could be reached on some of these issues, there is little chance that Pristina and Belgrade would agree on dueling status proposals, and there are not any new options on the table: Kosovo's ethnic Albanians will settle for nothing less than independence, while Belgrade insists that independence is not an option and is willing to go only as far as granting the province greater autonomy.

What is most likely to happen is that the Vienna meeting will serve only as a confirmation of the failed status talks, which will allow the "Kosovo File" to be sent directly to the UNSC to decide on how best to end the status quo.

The US and Britain are pushing for the independence, with US President George W Bush saying that the solution should reflect the demand of the majority, but must also respect the rights of the minorities.

Washington says the Kosovo status chapter must be closed as soon as possible, as the status quo can no longer be maintained and any further delays keep the economy in limbo and could lead to renewed unrest among ethnic Albanians.

Implications for Belgrade

But handing the decision over to the UNSC - which is likely to result in a declaration of independence for Kosovo later this year or early next year - could be problematic.

One question Western leaders will have to answer is how to sell Kosovo's independence to the Serbian people to avoid internal instability. This comes at a time when radicals are leading the polls with a 40 percent popularity rating. Declaring an independent Kosovo would certainly give radicals a further boost and could be the downfall of the current government.

The Serbian leadership is hoping to convince the UNSC to delay its decision by a few months, at least until after elections, which are tentatively planned for the end of this year.

Serbian President Tadic, a moderate who on several occasions has acknowledged that Kosovo was moving toward independence, said after meeting with top EU officials Tuesday in Brussels that he would prefer extraordinary elections in Serbia before Kosovo's status was decided.

But over all, what Belgrade really wants is a temporary solution for Kosovo, such as "essential autonomy" inside Serbia, and a postponement of final status for up to 20 years - an idea that already has been categorically rejected by Western governments.

The question of Russia

For the West, the political implications for Belgrade seem to hold less importance than Russia's demands, however. After all, elections will come and go in Serbia and regardless, Belgrade will have to make a touch decision between holding on to Kosovo and pursuing its path of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Russia, on the other hand, would use Kosovo independence to win the backing of Western governments for independence for Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Moldova's breakaway region of Transdneistria.

Russian authorities have been quite vocal about the precedent Kosovo's independence could set.

At least for now, Britain and the US have maintained that a comparison cannot be drawn between Kosovo and Georgia and Moldova, but that could change as Kosovo's independence would require Russia's vote on the UNSC - a vote it is not likely to give without some assurance of a similar deal for South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdneistria.

In Brussels, the ISN Security Watch's EU source echoed sentiments in London and Washington, saying that "all issues should be resolved according to their specifications," but he said he doubted Russia would move to bloc the UNSC vote on Kosovo's final status.

Russia's apparent readiness to accept Kosovo’s independence in light of the precedent it would set represents a marked change in Moscow's position.

Earlier, Russia had rejected the idea of independence for Kosovo as it feared it would strengthen the case for the independence of its Northern Caucasus republic of Chechnya.

But now, diplomats are cautiously optimistic that Russia will not abandon Contact Group statements saying that the solution for Kosovo "must be acceptable to Kosovo people” - a statement Western diplomats interpret as meaning "acceptable to the ethnic Albanian majority," or independence.

Observers also believe that with Russia on board - though it is not clear if Moscow's demands will be met - Kosovo independence is a done deal.

“The Russians believe that Kosovo’s independence will help their case in the three regions,” Nicholas Whyte from the International Crisis Group (ICG) told ISN Security Watch.

There have been diplomatic rumblings in Brussels that the UNSC was planning to "invite" member nations to recognize Kosovo's independence in the fall, though this has not been independently confirmed.

But if the West fails to agree on Russia's hoped-for concessions, complications could erupt at the UNSC, he suggested.

Since Moscow's change in position, the Serbian leadership has been lobbying other Contact Group members, including China, to vote against Kosovo independence. But so far, those lobbying efforts seem to have made little headway.

Regional implications

Since Montenegro's declaration of independence from the state union with Serbia in May, Bosnian Serbs have stepped up their calls for a similar right to self-determination - a call that has been categorically rejected by Western officials. The Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia split the country into two administrative entities, the Bosniak- and Croat-dominated Federation entity and the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity.

The Serbian government has repeatedly warned that a declaration of independence for Kosovo could threaten regional stability in the western Balkans.

But EU and US officials have remained adamant that whatever the solution for Kosovo, the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be changed.

Some also have warned of potential consequences for Serbia's internal borders, with Serbs in northern Kosovo threatening partition, which could in turn provoke the ethnic Albanian majority in the south of Serbia (Presevo Valley) to seek to join a newly independent Kosovo. Others warn that it could also incite new tensions in Macedonia (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), where the Albanian minority forms a quarter of the population.

The Contact Group has made it clear that an independent Kosovo could not join any parts or countries in the region, referring to northwestern Macedonia, southern Serbia and Albania.

EU boosts Kosovo independence hopes

On Monday, Kosovo's independence was boosted further when EU officials released a report to member states' foreign ministers signaled the bloc would begin to treat Kosovo as an independent state.

The report says Kosovo is to move toward the EU as an independent country from Serbia by building bilateral relations as Brussels does with other aspiring countries of the western Balkans region.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the 25-nation bloc expected Kosovo authorities to work hard on meeting the criteria set for accession. They also said Brussels should be ready to grant to Kosovo all contractual relations for this purpose.

Once the final status has been decided the EU will take over the mandate of the United Nation's Mission (UNMIK) and is to supervise Kosovo's "limited" independence, while NATO will continue to run the security mission, but with reduced troop numbers.

As such, EU member states will assume the main role in Kosovo, with a European police mission that is expected to help local authorities provide security guarantees for minorities.

Ekrem Krasniqi is ISN Security Watch’s senior correspondent at the EU, UN, and NATO in Brussels, where he has been based since 1992. Has has worked for the Kosovo weekly magazine Zeri and the daily Zëri i Ditës. Krasniqi is the founder of DTT-NET.COM press agency and serves as the outlet’s editor-in-chief.

Poll finds majority of Serbians willing to accept Kosovo independence

Excerpt from report by Kosovo Albanian television KohaVision TV on 19 July

[Announcer] Sixty-two per cent of Serbians are ready to accept a resolution of Kosova [Kosovo] status that satisfies the will of the majority of Kosova citizens, and that is independence. The Albanian and Serb populations of Kosova are ready to mobilize in order to protest against a status resolution that does not please them. These are some of the findings of a survey organized in Kosova and Serbia jointly by the Kosova Institute for Political Research and Development [KIPRED] and Strategic Marketing Research in Belgrade.

[Reporter Xhemajl Rexha] Serbia's citizens continue to become more flexible where future Kosova status is concerned. A survey organized by KIPRED and Strategic Marketing Research shows that 62 per cent of Serbians are willing to tolerate Kosova's independence. According to KIPRED officials, this contradicts Serbian politicians' claims that all of Serbia is unwilling to let Kosova go.

[Genc Krasniqi, KIPRED] As an example we could take the declarations by Serbian politicians that they cannot negotiate Kosova's independence because of Serbia's population, because of radical views in Serbia. This research shows that this is not true. The fact that 60 per cent of the Serbian population in Serbia is open to a resolution which may be viewed as pro-Albanian proves this.

[Reporter] On the other hand, the survey documents that 90 per cent of ethnic Albanians in Kosova view independence as the only possible option. The survey targeted the Kosova Albanian and Serb population, Serbians and displaced Serbs in Serbia. Mayor differences in opinion have been found between the Albanian and Serb populations of Kosova [Passage omitted]

Source: KohaVision TV, Pristina, in Albanian 1700 gmt 19 Jul 06

Kosovo is already largely independent: Slovenian foreign minister

Jul 20, 2006, 19:00 GMT

Ljulbjana - The breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo is already practically independent, Slovenia\'s Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said Thursday after meeting with Kosovo\'s Prime Minister Agim Ceku in Ljubljana.

Slovenia would work towards a quick conclusion to the ongoing negotiations over the future status of the predominantly ethnic- Albanian province, Rupel said.

Representatives of Kosovo\'s approximately 2 million ethnic Albanians have been negotiating for months with Serbia over the future status of the province that has been administered by the United Nations since 1999.

Kosovo\'s Albanians want independence from Serbia while Serbia is offering it wide-ranging autonomy instead.

UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari has invited top politicians from Pristina and Belgrade to a direct meeting in Vienna on Monday.

© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur