Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Belgrade negotiating team criticizes Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic

Members of the Belgrade negotiating team for the Kosovo talks, Leon Kojen and Slobodan Samardzic, have openly criticized Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic for allegedly dominating talks with UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari during his recent visit to Kosovo, according to a Serbian newspaper report. Ivanovic told the paper that he had essentially presented the same proposals on decentralization as the Belgrade negotiating team and rejected claims that he was a "loose cannon". The following is the text of the report by Biljana Bakovic entitled "Favouring Oliver" published by the Serbian newspaper Politika on 26 August:

The four-day visit to Serbia's southern province [Kosovo] by Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special envoy for the status of Kosmet [Kosovo-Metohija], has exposed divisions on the Serbian side over the issue of the decentralization of Kosmet. Yesterday [25 August] Leon Kojen and Slobodan Samardzic, members of Belgrade's negotiating team, openly expressed displeasure with Ahtisaari's choice of interlocutor among representatives of the Kosmet Serbs.

They said that Oliver Ivanovic (the head of the Serb List for Kosovo-Metohija, who met with Martti Ahtisaari on Wednesday) is "systematically monopolizing the name and authority of the Serb List for Kosovo-Metohija for his own personal proposals". Moreover, the special envoy and his office, UNOSEK [UN Office of the Special Envoy for Kosovo], "are giving stronger political preference to Oliver Ivanovic and the Serb List, as if Ivanovic has made the only proposal for decentralization," Kojen and Samardzic said, thus confirming that the Serbian side in the critical talks on the southern province is experiencing rifts that others are obviously taking advantage of.

At a news conference held yesterday in the Serbian government building, Samardzic and Kojen were also critical of the fact that while in Kosmet, Ahtisaari spent more time talking about the number of municipalities than about their authorities.

The Serbian negotiators expect UNOSEK to inform them directly of what was offered to the Albanian side and what their response was.

Samardzic said that the mayors of the three Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo "presented their position appropriately and properly, a position that is identical to that of negotiating team." However, he added, in talks with the Serbian side UNOSEK gave priority to the leader of the Serb List for Kosovo-Metohija, who used that opportunity to present his own proposal, which differs from Belgrade's official stance.

Leon Kojen noted that the member of the Serb List on Belgrade's negotiating team is Goran Bogdanovic, who did not support Ivanovic's proposal. "What Oliver Ivanovic is doing, both when he submits proposals to Ahtisaari and when he meets with (Kosovo Prime Minister) Agim Ceku, is political manipulation," said Kojen, recalling that Randjel Nojkic, a member of the Serb List with close ties to Ivanovic, protested about his meeting with Ceku.

The harshness of Kojen's attitude towards Oliver Ivanovic was further evidenced by his observation that he has not seen any reports in the Belgrade media about the Serb List leader visiting any Serb enclave in Kosovo and holding open forums anywhere in the province, nor any reports on him having any contact with the populace that he "ostensibly represents". Kojen went on to say that the proposal for decentralization in Kosovo that was presented as a Serb List document is actually a proposal by Oliver Ivanovic and a small group of people, and for that reason the state negotiating team saw no need to respond and react to that plan.

In a phone interview with Politika, meanwhile, the "censured" Oliver Ivanovic responded that it was precisely because of the egos of allies of the Serbian president and prime minister that the Serb List's plan was not considered by the negotiating team. He also says that there are no major differences between the two Serbian plans for decentralization. "The only difference lies in the supporting arguments, which in our case are much more realistic and more attuned to the people since they came from the people, and thus they are also better received by the international community," he says. He emphasizes that the Serb List is seeking greater authorities for municipalities with a Serb majority than the Serbian negotiating team is. "Second, the Serb List has included Lipljan, the urban part (which with Novo Naselje has more than 1,500 Serbs and, among other things, two 14th century churches), but the Belgrade negotiating team does not include it. The Serb List has included Crkvena Vodica and Janjina Vodica, and our negotiating team has not. We are more demanding, but they are listening to us," says Ivanovic, adding that Goran Bogdanovic who, in his words, was sent to the state negotiating team by the Serb List, "has not succeeded in warning them of the danger of making proposals that will not be accepted most of all by the Serb community itself."

"Goran Bogdanovic is unable to win out on that point. What we are talking about here is something that we gave him to convey to the negotiating team, but he did not manage to push that through. We waited three months to take action, and during that time no one reacted, saying either yes or no," he emphasizes.

He adds that more than 100 ordinary people were consulted when drafting this proposal. "We did not consult any outsiders. And Kojen's statement about disagreement within our ranks is not true. The entire Serb List is absolutely unified on this. We spoke with ordinary farmers. Thus, we did have contact. It is totally ridiculous and utterly unnatural for someone who has never seen Kosovo with his own two eyes, except on the map and on the TV screen, to talk about what should be done and how," Ivanovic says.

Since such actions have led some officials in Belgrade, and some representatives of Kosmet's Serbs, to regard him as a "loose cannon", Ivanovic emphasizes that he is certainly no such thing, since he was elected. "The Serb List is not a negotiator, we set the record straight on that, Ahtisaari told us that and we said the same thing to him. Only the Belgrade negotiating team has legitimacy, but does that mean that all of the rest of us have to remain silent in the meantime? We are here only to try to unblock the process with our initiatives," he emphasizes, but he refuses to comment when asked whether he means to say that Belgrade has blocked the negotiating process.

"The fact that Ahtisaari did not come to Belgrade should ultimately be taken as a warning. Much more important than what we think about ourselves and our actions is what Ahtisaari, the Contact Group and the UN Security Council think about what individuals are doing, especially the heads of the negotiating teams," Ivanovic stresses.

Still, he feels that this "dual-track" approach by the Serbian side does not benefit the Albanian side. "That only leaves a bad impression, I must admit, but it does not serve their purposes, because the Serb List's demands are much greater and much better supported by arguments, and thus much more dangerous too," Ivanovic emphasizes.

However, his remarks about unity within the Serb List are refuted by none other than Goran Bogdanovic, the member of the negotiating team and of the Serb List representing the Democratic Party, who says that at a joint meeting with Ahtisaari he "defended" Belgrade's proposal, while Ivanovic presented a "proposal from individuals in the Serb List".

"It is neither my desire nor my intention to assuage the frustrations of certain people in the Serb List. There is no unity within the Serb List, because when the decentralization plan was discussed, I and several other members of the Serb List were opposed to the Serb List presenting its own plan, in the belief that the proposal by the state team should also be the proposal of the Serb List and of all Serbs, especially those in Kosovo-Metohija. It is a fact that a huge number of Serbs agreed with the state team's proposal, so that for me personally there was no dilemma about which side to stand on," says Bogdanovic in a phone interview with Politika.

Emphasizing that no one has the right to torpedo the work of the state team, he notes that there was no need for individuals from the Serb List to put forward this proposal, because in February, when the talks began, he presented the views of the Serb List to the coordinators of the team, Kojen and Samardzic, and they were all incorporated into the negotiating team's plan. He says that this reflected his good intentions in terms of reaching an agreement within the Serb List on such matters in February, but he stresses that the Serb List did not delegate him to the state team, nor did anyone authorize him to present to the team the proposal that Ivanovic is talking about.

Source: Politika, Belgrade, in Serbian 26 Aug 06 pp 1, 7

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