Saturday, September 02, 2006

Serbia unlikely to take any radical steps over Ahtisaari's remarks - agency

Text of Beta commentary entitled "Ahtisaari under fire" published in English by Serbian news agency Beta's Beta Week service

The authorities in Serbia launched a strong campaign against the international mediator for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, after he stated that the policies of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic would be taken into consideration within negotiations on the status of the province.

However, the government will most likely not take any radical steps.

A pragmatic approach to this issue prevailed during the meeting of the Serbian negotiating team, held at the beginning of this week. The ideas about abandoning negotiations and demanding Ahtisaari's dismissal, advocated by certain radical Kosovo Serb leaders, were not accepted.

The fact is that Belgrade is aware that neither Serbia, nor the Kosovo Serbs have any power in appointing or dismissing the international mediator, so a possible demand for Ahtisaari's dismissal would only be a public declaration of discontentment.

Abandoning negotiations would have even less practical effect, since that step could be labelled as unilateral, and the negotiating process would continue without direct participation of the Serbian side.

The Serbian negotiating team announced it will initiate "a diplomatic offensive" with the aim of proving that Ahtisaari had broken the rules of mediation and in fact took side with the Albanians. If this initiative yields results, a request for Ahtisaari's dismissal could possibly follow. This means that Belgrade would have to convince the leading Contact Group members that its stands are correct, for which there is little chance. Thus, the announcement of the diplomatic initiative is more an attempt to show to the domestic public the decisiveness of the Serbian side, than a planned action from which the leading Serbian parties expect a realistic result.


Ahtisaari's statement is so far the most direct message to the Serb side that the international community, or a significant part of it at least, view the Kosovo crisis as a consequence of actions of the Milosevic' regime, which now must be "paid for" regardless of the fact that this regime was ousted.

Thus the thesis about Serb liability as a political argument, which in fact is in favour of the Albanians' demands for Kosovo to obtain some form of independence soon.

Ahtisaari has full support of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan's spokesman Brandon Varma said Ahtisaari's dismissal was not being considered and that he saw nothing bad in his noting that historic "heritage" could not be ignored in the solving of the Kosovo status. It turned out that, in the eyes of the international community, the authorities and leading political parties in Serbia have started "sliding" towards the position in which Milosevic was once in, at least as far as Kosovo is concerned.

It seems that the ruling coalition is not very worried about this, so they are not planning a change of strategy. It is as though they have passively accepted the imposed role of "guilty party" in spite of domestic protests. At this time it is not completely clear whether the Serbian leaders are expecting real support from important members of the Contact Group, like China and Russia, or simply cannot redefine the starting political position, according to which Kosovo has to accept the fact that it is part of Serbia.

Ahtisaari's statement, as it happens, has caused a flood of patriotic rhetoric in the pro-government media. The government brought the bomb-attack on the Dolce Vita cafe in the northern, Serb part of the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, in direct contact with Ahtisaari's statement, indirectly marking him as the one who inspired the terrorist act. This campaign is obviously directed towards the Serb voters, to whom the ruling coalition wished to send a message that they would fight for Kosovo decisively and to the end.


Belgrade's fierce reactions will not stop the negotiating process. This is indicated by the fact that the Serbian negotiating team did not only discuss Ahtisaari's statement, but also the continuing of negotiations with Pristina. The office of Martti Ahtisaari (UNOSEK) in Vienna is planning to continue talks in September about non-status issues in Kosovo - decentralization, protection of minority rights, of the Serb religious and cultural heritage and about the economy. Both sides are expected to come forward with more flexible stands regarding the jurisdiction of new majority Serb municipalities in the province.

Last week, Ahtisaari attempted several times to convince the Pristina negotiating team that it had to soften its stands in connection with the Serbs' self-rule in Kosovo. Judging by the reactions of the Pristina side, he advocated the division of Kosovska Mitrovica into two towns, with completely separated local authorities. Pristina disagrees with this view of the future of Mitrovica, insisting on it being a united town, with two municipalities and a joint body, which would be run by a person from the international community for a certain period.

Pristina now proposed for cooperation between the majority Serb municipalities and those in central Serbia to take place through the two governments, i.e. with the mediation of a joint commission. This body would define models of communication between municipalities of the "two sovereign states", Kosovo and Serbia. According to members of the Pristina negotiating team, the municipalities have the right to cooperate with municipalities in neighbouring countries, but cannot cooperate with central authorities of another country apart from inter-state cooperation.

In the entire complex of decentralization issues, the Kosovo side finds much more important how the local administration in the future Serb municipalities would be controlled, than how many of them would be set up. "It is important for all territories to remain within Kosovo because, as long as the territorial integrity and unitary character of Kosovo is preserved, which envisages that central institutions have authority on its entire geographic and administrative territory, there cannot be mention of any major problem, and this is the focus of attention of the negotiating team," members of the Pristina team pointed out.

Pristina adhered to its earlier proposal about the forming of five new and the expansion of one existing majority Serb municipality. Instead of consenting to the increase of the number of new majority Serb municipalities, political representatives of the Kosovo Albanians could allow the uniting of new land-registry zones to the municipalities that will be formed. The total number of Serb municipalities is important for the Serbian negotiating team, but much more important is what authority they would have.

Source: Beta Week, Belgrade, in English 0000 gmt 31 Aug 06

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