Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kosovo independence looms but brief delay on cards

BELGRADE, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Kosovo got the clearest signs yet on Tuesday that independence is coming, but the United States and the European Union seemed divided on whether to delay a U.N. decision so that Serbia can hold an election first.

"It is the firm view of the U.S. that a delay offers no advantages to any party," said Frank Wisner, U.S. envoy to the breakaway Serbia province that has been run by the United Nations for the past seven years.

"The United States further believes that delay can only leave in limbo the definition of this region, which needs to close its door on the past and to define its future," he said in Belgrade after meeting Serbian officials.

Western powers are wary that delaying a U.N. decision on a Kosovo proposal by envoy Martti Ahtisaari -- reported to recommend a two-year path to statehood -- could invite trouble from ethnic Albanian extremists.

But some fear pushing it through before a Serbian election could boost the vote for anti-Western nationalist hardliners.

The U.S. is not convinced by the argument but Wisner, leaving room for compromise, said that until an election date was set Washington could not say if a delay would make sense.

The U.N. launched talks on Kosovo's final status in February aiming to complete them by end 2006. But there has been no compromise on the key issue. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence; Serbia rejects the demand.

Ahtisaari has given U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan his 'preliminary ideas' on the future of Kosovo, which do not use the word independence yet, but offer a clear path to statehood over the next two years.

The plan sets "criteria which characterise an independent country", a senior Western diplomat in Kosovo told Reuters.

Diplomats say the blow to Serb pride from losing 15 percent of its territory could tilt voters towards hardline anti-Western nationalist parties if it is delivered before a Serbian election now considered imminent.

With this risk in mind, European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana said earlier on Tuesday that Ahtisaari should delay presenting his final plan, if the Serbs schedule an election to be held before the end of this year.

"We would wait to make the decision on what would be the final status," Solana told reporters in Madrid.


The Contact Group on Kosovo -- the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- is to meet on Nov.10, and may decide on timing if Serbia has set an election date by then.

Most Serb parties, including the ultranationalist Radicals, the country's strongest, say elections should be held as soon as possible. If they are scheduled for December, the decision on Kosovo would likely be stalled by a couple of months at most.

But Kosovo Albanians, who have been waiting in limbo to get their own state for seven years, oppose any delay at all.

The province of 2 million has been run by the UN since 1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing war drove out Serb forces accused of killing civilians while fighting separatist guerrillas.

The Kosovo-based diplomat said Ahtissari's plan would begin by letting Kosovo join world bodies reserved for sovereign states. States would subsequently be free to recognise it as Europe's newest independent state, or not.

The compromise is reportedly the result of opposition from Russia -- U.N. veto holder and sometime Serb ally -- to the notion of a U.N. resolution directly making Kosovo independent.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said "it would be a problem" if Ahtisaari's plan does not use the word 'independence'. But in a conciliatory note he added that Kosovo's government would look carefully at "the substance of the proposal", not the letter.

"It is very important that the substance of his proposal means independence," he told a news conference.

The impact of a delay in the decision for the highly volatile province, however, may be harder to gauge. Some Kosovo Albanian hardliners believe they ought to have declared independence unilaterally long ago.

U.N. agencies and NATO peacekeepers both have contingency plans for trouble as the decision process reaches its climax. (additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Madrid)

U.S. envoy for Kosovo urges conclusion of status talks

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A U.S. envoy involved in negotiations to resolve Kosovo's postwar status said Tuesday that the talks must finish by the end of the year, as scheduled, and any delay would leave the region in "limbo."

The U.N.-mediated talks began in February, but have been made little progress in bridging the deeply conflicting positions of both sides. Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians insist on independence and have rejected offers of broad autonomy from Belgrade, which wants to keep the southern province within Serbia's border.

"We should move ahead and conclude these negotiations as soon as possible," said the U.S. envoy, Frank Wisner, after meetings with senior Serbian officials in Belgrade. "This is the firm view of the United States."

Serbia's breakaway southern province has been a U.N.-protectorate since the end of the war between Serb military forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999. Most analysts have predicted that Kosovo will be granted some form of independence.

Wisner's visit to Belgrade came only days after Serbia approved in a referendum a new constitution which states that Kosovo is an integral part of the republic, regardless of the outcome of the U.N.-brokered talks.

The ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have dismissed the Serbian charter as irrelevant, but Serbian leaders have argued that popular backing on the Kosovo issue would improve their position at the talks.

Wisner said only that the "Serbian constitution is a Serbian matter."

He emphasized that any delay in the Kosovo talks must be avoided.

"Delay can only frustrate the hopes of those who live in Kosovo, and deny clarity to Serbians," he said. "The United States further believes that the delay can only leave in limbo the definition of this region, which needs to close its door on the past and begin to define its future."

The U.S. envoy met with President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.

Draskovic said in a statement that a compromise over Kosovo should "present a bridge between Serbia's territorial integrity and the ethnic Albanian majority's demand to run Kosovo."

Kostunica insisted that "a solution for Kosovo must be in accordance with international law ... which guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member states."

He added that "only the United Nations Security Council can authorize a solution for Kosovo; a unilateral recognition (of Kosovo's independence) would be absolutely invalid."

Serbia perceives the United States as supportive of the ethnic Albanian bid for independence. Kostunica repeatedly has said that he is counting on Serbia's traditional ally, Russia, to block possible Kosovo independence at the U.N. Security Council where it holds veto power.

Wisner said that "the final status is still under discussion ... and will be discussed further."

Albania says Serbian constitution's claim on Kosovo unacceptable

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Albania said Tuesday that the new Serbian constitution's claim over Kosovo is unacceptable.

A Foreign Ministry statement said the charter, approved in a weekend referendum, was unhelpful at a time when international talks are under way to determine Kosovo's final status.

Since the end of the war between Serb military forces and separatists in the southern province in 1999, the predominantly ethnic Albanian territory has been run by a U.N. administration and patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.

The new Serbian constitution refers to Kosovo as an integral part of the nation.

"That was a unilateral and unproductive act," the ministry statement said.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population, are demanding independence, while Serbia wants to keep at least some control over the province.

The U.N.-mediated negotiations on its future are scheduled to finish by the end of the year, but little progress has been made in talks between the two sides.

Albania has been the strongest supporter of Kosovo's independence, though it says it has no territorial claims over the territory.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Serb, Kosovo Albanian leaders differ on meaning of referendum's approval

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Serbian leaders on Monday hailed the outcome of a referendum reinforcing the country's claim to the U.N.-administered province of Kosovo, but Kosovo's independence-minded ethnic Albanian majority called the result irrelevant.

Serbs and Kosovo Albanians are deadlocked over Belgrade's demands it retain some hold on the province despite Kosovo Albanians' insistence on independence -- a nettlesome divide that helped plunge the region into a war that left thousands of people dead.

While voters only narrowly passed the weekend referendum on a new constitution restating the Serb claim to Kosovo, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the results "made it clear that we will protect our country's integrity ... and that Kosovo is part of Serbia."

Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovo Serb leader, said the new constitution sends a "very important message" to international officials mediating in talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

"Serbia will not easily give up Kosovo, this is the main message," he said. "It tells the international community it must take into account the Serb stand as well, not only the one of (Kosovo) Albanians."

Predictably, Kosovo Albanians differed on the meaning of the vote's result.

"We consider it very irrelevant," Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku told Associated Press Television News.

The status of the province led to a war between Serbia and Kosovo that ended in June 1999, after NATO bombing forced a withdrawal by troops loyal to Slobodan Milosevic, president of what was then Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia.

Kosovo has been governed since then by the U.N., although ethnic Albanians, who constitute a more than 90-percent majority, have been granted increasing political responsibility. Along with Serbs outside Kosovo, the province's ethnic Serb minority is also vehemently opposed to independence for the province.

Kosovo was stripped of its autonomous status 1989 by Milosevic amid a building Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority. The war that followed nearly a decade later left about 10,000 people dead, most of them ethnic Albanians. About 1 million others fled temporarily to neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

The referendum -- on a new post-Milosevic era constitution that restates the Serb claim to Kosovo -- nearly foundered with barely more than the required 50 percent turnout needed to make it valid.

The EU downplayed the referendum's significance, with EU spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy saying "the issue of the future status of Kosovo" was being dealt with the U.N.-mediated talks. And she said that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority was left off voters lists.


Associated Press writers Katarina Kratovac and Jovana Gec contributed to this report from Belgrade.

US welcomes Serbian constitution, except for Kosovo provision

WASHINGTON, Oct 30, 2006 (AFP) -

The United States welcomed on Monday Serbia's adoption of a new constitution as a positive step for democracy, but it brushed aside the document's attempt to cement Belgrade's authority over the breakaway province of Kosovo.

Preliminary results from a weekend referendum showed voters narrowly endorsing the constitution, drafted to account for the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and, most recently, Montenegro's separation from Serbia in May.

"It's a positive step forward for the Serbian people in terms of having a democratic process to deal with what could have been very heated political disputes," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He said thorny issues relating to the dissolution of the Serbia-Montenegro union "were dealt with in a clear, rational manner" in the new constitution.

But McCormack said provisions in the text reasserting Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo were irrelevant given an ongoing UN-administered effort to determine the future of the province.

"That process is governed by a UN Security Council resolution," he said.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO troops ousted Serbian forces from the province to halt attacks on the region's ethnic Albanian majority.

A special UN envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari, has been trying to negotiate a status agreement for the province before the end of this year, but has been hamstrung by Serbian opposition.

The ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population are seeking independence for the province, while Belgrade is only prepared to offer broad autonomy.

ANALYSIS-EU fears U.N. proposal may fall short on Kosovo

BRUSSELS, Oct 30 (Reuters) - European officials are worried that a U.N. mediator will avoid outlining a clear final status for Kosovo, risking a unilateral declaration of independence that may cause a diplomatic crisis and split the European Union.

Officials familiar with Finnish mediator Martti Ahtisaari's thinking say he is set to stop short of proposing independence for the breakaway Serbian province in deference to fierce hostility from Belgrade and strong Russian opposition.

"The dangerous situation is if there is no clear recommendation as to the final status," one senior EU official said. "There is a very significant risk of that."

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, in charge of the European integration of the Western Balkans, has been urging Ahtisaari to ensure clarity in his proposals for an agreed settlement, due to be issued sometime in November.

Many European officials are urging the mediator to delay his push for a deal until after early Serbian elections possible in December, following a weekend referendum that approved a new constitution declaring Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.

But the United States and Britain are pressing for a final status agreement this year, arguing that delay risks provoking violence among Kosovo's overwhelmingly Albanian population.

Kosovo has been under United Nations protection in a state of legal limbo since 1999, when NATO waged an air campaign to drive out Serbian forces and stop ethnic cleansing.

Its prime minister, Agim Ceku, insists independence by the end of this year is the only acceptable outcome for Kosovo's 2 million people, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians.

"Nothing less than independence will be acceptable," the former general told Reuters in an interview this month.


While Washington and London argue that Kosovo's situation is unique, Russia sees it as a precedent for changing international borders without the consent of the country concerned.

If Kosovo can have independence against Belgrade's wishes, then breakaway regions of Moldova or Georgia backed by Moscow should enjoy the same right, Russian officials contend.

The EU official said Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president and veteran negotiator often tipped for the Nobel peace prize, felt it was not his duty to make "a judgment of Solomon".

He planned to set out legal arrangements on governance, decentralisation and minority rights but leave the ultimate final status decision to the U.N. Security Council.

The Kosovo daily Express, quoting two diplomats it said had seen Ahtisaari's draft, said the plan would not include the word "independence" but recommend Kosovo be given "treaty-making powers" and the right to join international organisations.

A senior European diplomat in the Kosovo capital Pristina said the report "seems to tie in very much with what we know.

"He doesn't mention independence but Ahtisaari is describing the criteria which characterise an independent country," he said.

An EU official in Brussels said that could trigger a "messy scenario" in which the Security Council would be deadlocked and the Kosovo government, perhaps with the green light from Washington, would declare independence.

If that happened, there would be an intense diplomatic battle over recognition, with the United States likely to lead a drive for recognition against Russian resistance.

The EU risked a split between "Orthodox and Habsburg" member states closer to Serbia and others such as Britain that might recognise Kosovo individually, he said.


An EU diplomat in Brussels said a discussion of Kosovo among ambassadors of the 25-nation bloc last week was based on the assumption that Ahtisaari would delay.

"Now it looks as if the whole schedule has been delayed. Ahtisaari will want to see Serbian elections before presenting his report. People recognise it is a very complicated process," the diplomat said.

But Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said after talks with EU officials last Friday that a delay in Kosovo's final status could affect his own country next door.

"The situation in our country is stable, however we are aware that certain risks exist on Kosovo," he said. "You need only three people, one landmine, one flag and a press communique to have an incident.

"Therefore we think a decision concerning the final status of Kosovo should be taken earlier ... The endless prolongation of the status quo is not creating a bigger space for some ideal solution. There will be no ideal solution," he said.

It was always best to take difficult decisions in the Balkans in winter, he said, before the snows melt and fighters can take to the mountains. (Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels and Matt Robinson in Pristina)

UN envoy offers Kosovo limited sovereignty: report

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 30, 2006 (AFP) -

The special UN envoy in talks on Kosovo's future, Martti Ahtisaari, has proposed offering the Serbian province and its ethnic-Albanian majority limited sovereignty, a report said Monday.

Ahtisaari, who has been leading talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the status of Kosovo, stepped short of proposing the independence for the UN-run province, said Kosovo's independent Express newspaper.

The Finnish diplomat recommended forming "the newest state in the Balkans ... with limited sovereignty, a continued international presence and competencies in important fields," it said, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources.

"It is clear that the competencies given to Kosovo mean only one thing -- independence with limited sovereignty," said the daily, known for its good contacts with Western diplomats.

The negotiations on the future status of the southern Serbian province, administered by the United Nations since June 1999, began in February under the auspices of the world body.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up around 90 percent of the province's two million population, are seeking independence from Serbia.

But the government in Belgrade and Kosovo's Serb minority insist the province -- which they consider the cradle of Serbian culture and history -- should only be granted greater autonomy.

The report came after 52.3 percent of the Serbian electorate backed a new constitution in a weekend referendum, which stresses that Kosovo is part of Serbia.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians were barred from voting, after they boycotted earlier polls.

Earlier this month, Ahtisaari submitted a 53-page report on the course of the talks and his recommendation for Kosovo to the Contact Group of leading countries overseeing peace in the Balkans.

Its members include the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

Ahtisaari was against giving Kosovo full international recognition with a UN seat, foreign ministry and army, the daily said.

However, Kosovo would have an "ability to sign international treaties and agreements, including membership in some international organisations," it reported.

The European Union would take administrative control of political issues in the province from the United Nations, it added.

"Ahtisaari is waiting for comments from the Contact Group before presenting his proposal to the United Nations Security Council," it said.

The daily speculated that Kosovo's provisional parliament "would adopt (its own) new constitution and declare independence" from Serbia after the United Nations adopted a resolution on its new status.

"The Kosovo government will seek official recognition and a seat in the international organisations," it added.

The province came under United Nations and NATO control in mid-1999 after the alliance's 11-week bombing campaign ended a brutal crackdown by the Serbian security forces under the regime of late leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

The international community has insisted that UN-sponsored talks must wind up by the end of the year, but so far neither side has shown any signs of compromise.

Serbia referendum will have no affect on Kosovo status talks, prime minister says

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Kosovo's prime minister on Monday dismissed claims that Serbia's new referendum could influence the outcome of U.N.-led talks on the breakaway province's future status.

The weekend vote on a new Serbian constitution that asserts Belgrade's claim on Kosovo would not have "any impact at all" on the drive by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians for independence, Prime Minister Agim Ceku said.

"We consider it very irrelevant," Ceku said, adding that it "does not deserve any comment from us."

Partial results from the Saturday-Sunday referendum indicate Serb voters have approved the new constitution, replacing a 1990 charter drafted under Serbia's former dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Final results were expected later Monday.

Western powers have criticized the new constitution for its assertion over the disputed Kosovo province, which has been run by the United Nations since a 1999 NATO air campaign halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

The U.N. envoy overseeing talks on Kosovo's final status, Martti Ahtisaari, was expected to present a proposal for the province's future in mid-November. Most diplomats have said the province will likely get some sort of independence, although there are concerns about the security of the 100,000 or so Serbs still living in Kosovo.

Serbs consider Kosovo to be the birthplace of the nation and home of the medieval Serbian kingdom. But sour relations between the two communities peaked in the 1998-99 war that left some 10,000 dead before NATO's 78-day bombing campaign stopped the Serb crackdown.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Serbs approve constitution with last-minute votes

BELGRADE, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Serbia adopted its first constitution of the post-Milosevic era on Sunday after a last-minute surge to the polls saved a two-day referendum from failure due to insufficient turnout.

According to preliminary results from the respected national polling organisation CESID, 51.6 percent of the electorate of 6.6 million voted in favour of the constitution.

Overall turnout was 53.5 percent.

The document of 206 articles includes a preamble reaffirming Serbian sovereignty over the breakaway province of Kosovo, whose 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority ignored the vote, saying it made no difference to their demand for independence.

The previous constitution under the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 1990 stripped Kosovo its autonomy and ushered in a decade of oppression culminating in a war with NATO that ended with Kosovo being removed to United Nations control.

Debate on the content of the new constitution was scant ahead of the vote, and analysis of the result focused on how close it had come to failure by banking on the emotional pull of the Kosovo issue for Serbs.

"The magic figure of 3.32 million was passed at seven o'clock (1800 GMT)," said Zoran Lucic of the respected CESID polling organisation. Exactly 50 percent had voted with one hour of polling still to go, he said. Lucic's prediction of a final turnout of more than 53 percent was later proved accurate.


The bill's reference to Kosovo as an "inalienable" part of Serbia is seen as an eleventh-hour bid to block independence.

Critics say the clause was simply a fig leaf to help leaders duck responsibility for its impending loss, as well as a device to appeal to notoriously apathetic voters.

The United States says the clause changes nothing. The Kosovo Albanian demand for independence has the sympathy of Western powers whose troops took control in 1999 to stop Milosevic's army killing civilians in a guerrilla war.

Diplomats say the United Nations could grant Kosovo a form of independence in the coming months over Serbia's objections.

Serbian President Boris Tadic had warned that rejection of the constitution would plunge Serbia into "months, maybe years" of political uncertainty. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said it would have had "bleak and unforeseeable consequences".

Kostunica's minority coalition is on its last legs, with the resignations of its key partners in the liberal G17 Plus party in his drawer. G17 has said this would ensure early elections as soon as the constitutional vote is over.

Elections were not due until the autumn of 2007.

Kostunica is now expected to call an early election, hoping for a stronger majority to ward off constant pressure from the ultranationalist Radical Party.

The threat of Serbia turning to the Radicals in a fit of anti-Westernism if Kosovo is made independent has been used by his government to scare Western powers insisting on the handover of top war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, a hero to the Radicals.

The European Union has punished Serbia for failing to arrest him by suspending talks on closer ties, relegating the country to the bottom of the Balkan queue for eventual membership.

But some analysts said the lukewarm response to the Kosovo rallying call had exposed the nationalist threat as an empty one. (Additional reporting by Ljilja Cvekic and Zorana Vucicevic)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Remember Kosovo - The Wall Street Journal

To get some perspective on Iraq and Afghanistan, let's revisit the previous decade's big nation-building project. Eleven years after U.S.-led forces went into Bosnia and seven after Kosovo, the Balkans remain prone to violence and riven by sectarian tensions. The scale of the difficulties wasn't appreciated at the start. Yet the alternative to the uneasy peace there today was -- and remains -- misery and instability on Europe's southeastern flank.

Tough decisions now loom for the Balkans, testing nerves and American leadership. By year's end, Kosovo is to move toward "final status," which to everyone but Serbia and Russia means independence. This will take finesse, so as not to push Serbia into the wilderness or rattle the weak multi-ethnic constructs in Bosnia and Macedonia. The U.S. and Europeans are also sure to come into conflict with Russia over Kosovo.

This tussle is Slobodan Milosevic's last gift to the world. In suing for peace with NATO in 1999, the late strongman made sure Kosovo stayed Serbia's on paper, and the U.S. and the Europeans let him get away with it. Though NATO troops and a U.N. government set up camp, and Belgrade no longer held sway, Serbians could indulge the fantasy that Kosovo wasn't gone for good.

The problem has festered for seven years. A U.N. negotiator, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, tried and failed to negotiate a solution. Milosevic's democratically elected successors aren't willing to take the blame for the loss of Kosovo, and Kosovar Albanian expectations were raised so high about sovereignty that their leaders had nothing left to negotiate. Mr. Ahtisaari called off the talks, and went to work on a plan for the Security Council.

The open secret is that the Finn will propose independence, but the timing and details are contentious. Both are worth sweating over. In an unstated quid pro quo, the internationals will hold off on Kosovo until Serbia holds parliamentary elections and gets a government with a four-year mandate, presumably enough time for voters to forget the loss.

But the Serbs must first call the poll, probably slated for early December, after this weekend's referendum on a new constitution, which was drawn up when Montenegro left their rump union earlier this year. (Shrinking is a Serbian speciality.) Though the constitution reasserts the claim to Kosovo, that clause is hardly legitimate, not least since the Kosovar Albanians didn't have a say in its drafting or ratification.

Any delay beyond early December risks the renewal of ethnic violence last seen in the spring of 2004, when the Kosovar Albanians rioted. In a telephone interview this week, U.S. envoy for Kosovo, Frank Wisner, told us by phone from Pristina that America remains committed to bringing the issue before the Security Council by the end of December.

Our sources tell us that the Ahtisaari plan takes inspiration from the sovereignty with strings attached granted Germany in 1949. Kosovo may not get a U.N. seat or a standing army for a while. It won't be called "conditional independence," but it'll be conditioned. Though Belgrade wants to carve away the Serb-dominated regions of northern Kosovo, partition is not on the table. It is, however, the reality on the ground and minority Serbs, the victims of ethnic cleansing since 1999, deserve reassurances about security. As do Serbs in Serbia proper about their religious sites in Kosovo.

Structured this way, with doors kept open to the EU and NATO on the ground, an independent Kosovo could thrive as other small, new European countries have. The wild card is Russia. Vladimir Putin recently tied the fate of Kosovo to unresolved territorial disputes in his own backyard. If Kosovo wins independence, he asked, why not the Russian-run breakaway regions of Georgia -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (By this reasoning, Russian Chechnya should also be a candidate for a U.N. seat but by now we shouldn't expect this Kremlin regime to be rational.)

So add Kosovo to Iran, Sudan, the Caucasus and other flashpoints where Mr. Putin works overtime to sabotage American policy. Russia may find an ally in China, nervous about "precedents" for Tibet and Taiwan. With Europe preferring to react than act in the Balkans, as in general on foreign affairs, Washington will be charged with pushing any resolution through the Security Council.

Of all the arguments thrown in the way of Kosovo independence, the territorial-integrity one holds up least well. Kosovo is a unique case -- a U.N.-run region that once belonged to a now defunct state, Yugoslavia. Serbia has little legal, much less moral, claim on Kosovo. Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaigns struck the final nails in that coffin. The "threat" to Bosnia and Macedonia is another canard. Both countries have legitimate constitutions that prohibit secession.

As ever, Balkan politics are a mess, and loud nationalists grab a lot of the attention. In the West's 12 years in the region, lots of money went to waste, empowering extremists and fostering corruption. Mass murderers like Radovan Karadzic are on the lam. NATO will need to stay on in Kosovo for many years, and the U.S. and Europe will have to remain engaged in other ways. But who can reasonably claim it's not worth it?

No two conflict zones are the same. By quirk of timing, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan are all now at turning points. If the world has learned anything in the past decade plus, it's that trying to rebuild war-torn nations takes great amounts of perseverance, hard work -- and most of all time. In 1995, Bill Clinton promised to bring the GIs home from Bosnia within 12 months. The last U.S. troops left earlier this year.

Kosovo falls hostage to big power rivalry

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: October 27 2006 18:44 | Last updated: October 27 2006 18:44
The US has sent a special envoy to Kosovo and Serbia to press both sides to keep the peace as the international community prepares to decide the status of the United Nations-run province.

Diplomats and politicians on all sides expect a messy and inconclusive outcome, and fear further ethnic violence in Kosovo with peacekeepers from Nato caught in the middle.

Few believe that Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president acting as UN mediator, can broker a compromise. This weekend Serbian voters are likely to approve by referendum a new constitution reaffirming Kosovo as part of Serbia, while the province’s ethnic Albanian majority overwhelmingly aspires to, and expects, full independence.

The fate of Kosovo – run by the UN and protected by Nato since the 1999 air campaign stopped ethnic cleansing by Serbia – is also hostage to the deteriorating state of relations between the US and Russia. These are complicated by rising tensions in the southern Caucasus and competing interests over Iran and energy resources.

As Russia reasserts itself on the world stage, the US and Europe are wondering what price President Vladimir Putin will exact at the UN Security Council in exchange for consenting to Kosovo’s independence, or whether he will simply block the process completely.

Mr Putin warns that independence for Kosovo would set a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian-backed, separatist enclaves in Georgia. The US insists Kosovo is a “unique” case, thereby also seeking to assuage Chinese concerns over Taiwan and Tibet.

Diplomats expect Mr Ahtisaari will recommend a form of “managed” or “conditional” independence that falls short of full sovereignty, keeping Kosovo under international protection and guidance, possibly for three years.

Should Russia deprive Kosovo of the UN’s blessing for a path to independence, then the Kosovo Albanian government under Agim Ceku, prime minister, may be encouraged by the US to consider making a unilateral declaration of independence.

This heightens the risk that the Serb minority in Kosovo, mostly concentrated in Nato-protected enclaves, would follow suit and declare their own independence or allegiance to Belgrade.

Frank Wisner, the special US envoy, is expected to urge Belgrade to prevent any such breakaway move. Diplomats say his mission is to tell Kosovo and Serbia that they must accept Mr Ahtisaari’s “compromise imposed solution”.

Dimitri Simes, head of the Nixon Center think-tank which has close contact with Moscow, says Russia’s position on Kosovo is hardening but it may not have decided how it will vote at the UN.

“That depends on the overall status of the US-Russia relationship, the results of World Trade Organisation negotiations and the forthcoming meetings in November between Presidents Bush and Putin, first in Moscow and then in Hanoi,” he said.

But he warned that it might be difficult for Mr Putin to back down over Kosovo.

“The Russian leadership, including President Putin personally, is making it increasingly clear to the Bush administration that Georgia is becoming a defining issue in the US-Russia relationship the way Iran and North Korea are on the American side.”

Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation security think-tank, said Mr Putin had “let the genie out of the bottle with nationalism” and warned of the dangers posed by a Russia seeking to regain its Soviet-era domination of the Caucasus and its strategic oil and gas pipelines.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, kept making concessions only for Russia to keep “upping the ante”, Mr Howard said.

It was possible the Bush administration would seek to delay Kosovo’s bid for independence and Georgia’s bid for Nato membership to keep Russia on board over Iran and North Korea, he added.

Speaking of the deadlock facing Mr Ahtisaari, one Kosovo Albanian politician commented: “We are waiting for the real talks to begin – between the US and Russia.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Kosovo announces tender for second mobile operator

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The United Nations-governed Kosovo on Thursday announced a new tender for a second mobile phone operator, after the U.N. cancelled the previous one in 2004, citing irregularities.

Kosovo Telecommunications Minister Qemajl Ahmeti told a news conference that the minimum price for the operator's licence was set at 20 million euros, which prospective buyers would be expected to top up with an additional "offered price".

The regulator deciding on the offers would also take into account each bidder's proposed coverage plans, quality, prior experience in the telecom sector and local employment proposals.

"The tender will be opened on November 3 and will last for 75 days, until January 17, 2007," Ahmeti said.

Monaco Telecom, 55-percent owned by Britain's Cable and Wireless Plc , provides Kosovo's only official mobile phone service under a deal with the U.N.-created fixed-line phone company, Post and Telecom Enterprise.

It has around 350,000 users in a territory of two million people. Like Monaco Telecom, the new provider will have to use its own national calling code at least until the U.N. decides on the majority Albanians' demand for independence.

The first tender for a new mobile phone operator -- awarded to local company Mobikos, backed by Mobitel of Slovenia -- was annulled after U.S. and British diplomatic representatives voiced doubt over the transparency of the process.

The United Nations has governed Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing in a two-year war with guerrillas.

The West is pushing for a decision on its final status around the turn of the year. Diplomats predict a form of independence under European Union supervision.

Under Kosovo's hazy legal status, Serbian mobile operators have been offering services for years, mainly for the beleaguered Serb minority. The Kosovo government says they are illegal but they have been tolerated by the U.N. mission.

Last week, the Kosovo government said it had won the backing of the U.N. to start removing antennas of the Serbian operators, except in areas where the 100,000 remaining Serb live.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Serbian constitution critic predicts weekend referendum will fail

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - The main critic of Serbia's new constitution predicted Wednesday that this weekend's referendum on the new charter will fail, and accused the authorities of pressuring the citizens to vote.

Cedomir Jovanovic, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, told the Associated Press that "there is no chance that the referendum will succeed."

The Oct. 28-29 referendum is necessary to confirm the new draft constitution which the Serbian parliament approved last month. More than half of Serbia's 6.6 million voters must turn out for the vote to be valid.

The new constitution defines Serbia as an independent state for the first time since 1918. It became necessity after Montenegro split from Serbia in June, following its own referendum on independence a month before.

But, Serbia's new constitution has sparked controversy because it declares U.N.-run province of Kosovo is an integral part of the republic, regardless of the outcome of ongoing international talks on the future status of the breakaway province.

Jovanovic and his liberal allies also have blasted the constitution because it was drawn hastily, with the support of the nationalists loyal to late ex-president Slobodan Milosevic.

"The way this constitution was passed was undemocratic," he said referring to lack of public discussion about the draft. "If they (authorities) haven't consulted us about this, I don't see why they would consult us about anything in the future."

Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica have praised the constitution saying it presented a split with the era of ex-president Milosevic, and paved the way for Serbia's development after years of sanctions and international isolation.

Both have urged the citizens to turn out in large numbers on Saturday and Sunday.

In Pristina, U.S. envoy for Kosovo, Frank Wisner said Wednesday that the constitution will have no effect on the decision about the future status of the region, expected by the end of the year.

Jovanovic claimed that members of his campaign against the constitution have faced pressure and attacks similar to the era of the autocratic Milosevic, including beatings and bans on the gatherings by the anti-referendum groups.

On Tuesday, a group of Kosovo Serbs marched to Jovanovic's Belgrade party headquarters shouting insults and accusing him of treason because of his liberal policies.

Jovanovic also alleged that the citizens working in the state-run companies have been subjected to "enormous pressure" to vote in the referendum. But, he predicted the turnout will hover around 45 percent.

"The referendum cannot succeed without manipulation," he said, warning that the vote was illegal because it will be held on two days.

He added that "it only serves to help those in power remain in power."

If approved in the referendum, the new constitution will lead to early general elections, tentatively planned for mid-December.

Serb referendum has no bearing on Kosovo - US envoy

(Updates with fresh quote, paragraph 10)

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday dismissed Serbian claims that a referendum this weekend on a new constitution could restore Belgrade's lost sovereignty over Kosovo.

Serbia has been rallying voters to back its new constitution as the best way to halt the secession of the country's southern province, where the ethnic Albanian majority expects to clinch independence around the turn of the year.

The draft, which replaces the defunct constitution of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, declares the United Nations-run territory of Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.

"What happens to you is a Kosovar matter, and an international matter," Ambassador Frank Wisner, Washington's Kosovo envoy, told reporters in the capital Pristina.

"It is not a matter of Serbian sovereignty, which changed when the U.N. agreed on 1244," he said.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 was adopted in June 1999 after 78 days of NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in a two-year war with Kosovo Albanian guerrillas. Ten thousand Albanians died.

The resolution placed Kosovo under U.N. stewardship, and reserved a decision on its future for the Security Council.

Seven years later, U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari is due to make his recommendation by the end of 2006. Diplomats predict a form of independence under European Union supervision, amputating land many Serbs consider their religious heartland.

Wisner's language appeared to reflect consensus in the West that returning Kosovo to Serb control is no longer feasible.

"In the end it will be in the interests of both nations to have a strong bilateral relationship," he said later after meeting Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku. "We are going to pursue independence by the -- sorry -- we are going to pursue final status by the end of the year."

The U.S diplomat said he counted on Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people, to allow Serbs in the province to vote in the referendum on Saturday and Sunday.

Around 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, many in enclaves guarded by troops of the 16,000-strong NATO-led peace force.

The proposed constitution, the fruit of rare consensus between government and opposition in Serbia, is expected to pass the referendum, and trigger early elections in December.

The U.S. and EU have indicated that elections in December could delay a decision on Kosovo into 2007, for fear of driving voters into the arms of ultranationalists.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kosovo’s status resolution timeline to be known after half of November

Zëri reports on the front page that, as was expected, Ahtisaari’s meeting with Contact Group diplomats in Vienna discussed the inevitable topic of the timeline for UNOSEK to conclude its work on the issue of Kosovo. An opinion that reportedly prevailed in the discussions was that Ahtisaari should not change the pace of his work or his agenda. This implies, adds the paper, that Ahtisaari and his team will continue with the pace of completing their package by mid November, and then present it to Pristina and Belgrade.

Zëri notes that according to this plan, Ahtisaari would go to the United Nations Security Council in late November or early December to present his offer and to seek support for his proposal. If there is agreement on Ahtisaari’s proposal (at least 9 out of 15 members of the Security Council must be in support, and none of the member should be against or use the right of veto), then the issue of Kosovo would be concluded.

The paper cites Western diplomatic sources as saying that the crucial moment for the timeline for resolving the issue of Kosovo will happen along with Contact Group’s meeting with Ahtisaari at the level of political directors. In that meeting the decision will be made on Ahtisaari’s and the Contact Group’s final responsibility if in the meantime the Serbian leadership organises early parliamentary and presidential elections in December this year.

Germany on the eve of preparations for Kosovo’s status (Koha Ditore)

Koha Ditore reports in the leading front-page story that Germany will continue to have the Balkans in the focus of its foreign policy and especially Kosovo now that the latter has entered the final phase of the future status. Unnamed diplomatic sources in Berlin have told the paper that Germany is deeply interested, along with other members of the Contact Group, the EU and the UN, to find the right and accepted solution for both parties in the case of Kosovo. The same sources said that difficult and decisive days await Kosovo in that phase of the status resolution.

The paper also notes that Kosovar and international politicians in Kosovo have been required to have clear management concepts. For Berlin, Kosovo will be an important point in the next chairmanship of the European Union, which Germany will take on from January 2007.

German diplomatic sources also told Koha Ditore that Berlin and other CG capitals with the exception of Moscow and Rome have no doubt that the result of Ahtisaari’s proposal will be the independence of Kosovo.

The paper notes that Germany will continue to play its mediating role especially at the UN Security Council. Visits by German diplomats have been planned for November to Moscow and Beijing to discuss the issue of possibly coordinating a new UN resolution that would remove Kosovo from Resolution 1244 and pave the way to Kosovo’s statehood and the clear EU engagement in a post-status mission in Kosovo.

The diplomatic sources added that it was extremely important for Kosovar politicians to be aware of the importance of the coming months. “In all levels we have tried and are trying to make it clear to Kosovo Albanian politicians that they must be ready to cooperate with UNMIK, but first of all by themselves, to manage the critical phase of moving from the administration of UNMIK to the independence of Kosovo,” added the sources. They also recalled that “in summer 1999 Kosovars lost sympathy towards the world public. Now, if any kind of violence or riots would happen after the status of Kosovo, the consequences for Kosovo would be so long-term that we won’t even know what to do anymore.”

Monday, October 23, 2006


Kosovo can never integrate into the EU and NATO unless it is a clearly defined sovereign state, leading Kosovar-Albanian negotiator Veton Surroi has said. Addressing a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC on 20 October, Surroi said this stance would not change no matter who wins Serbia's parliamentary elections in December. "Even if Mother Teresa gets elected, we will still plump for independence," he said [the renowned Calcutta-based nun was ethnic Albanian]. His comments came as talks to decide the future status of the UN-administered province remain delicately poised, with mediators hoping to forge an agreement by the end of 2006.


Veton Surroi, President of the opposition ORA party in Kosovo and former editor of the province's leading daily newspaper, told Europolitics that the EU should be the key international player in bolstering the rule of law in Kosovo. He was referring to the civilian mission the EU is due to launch in early 2007 to replace the UN mission. It will carry out tasks like supporting the police, training judges and protecting trial witnesses. But he was also fearful of international forces having "too many powers of intervention" as he said this could weaken the state.

The ORA leader accused the Serbian government of showing "very little engagement" in the ongoing Kosovo status talks, saying Serbia was relying on Russia to veto any future independence deal at the UN Security Council. He admitted the Serbian minority in Kosovo should be more involved in the process. But he said the Kosovo Serbs had not helped their cause by choosing to be represented by the Serbian government as Belgrade had not kept them briefed on the negotiations. He opposed any move to alter Kosovo's borders to make it more ethnically homogenous, although he said the ultimate goal should be "to make borders obsolete".


From the US State Department, Christopher Hoh was concerned that with all eyes on the status talks, "people are not focussing on the big picture, which is the future of Kosovo self-government". He urged the sides to think more about "the day after" issues such as how to decentralise the police and health sectors in Kosovo. He said the US was more into nation-building now than before, because the real threat to global security today came from failed states. Steven Meyer, who worked for many years as a CIA analyst in the Balkans, said the US was keen to "get out of the region," and predicted that Kosovo was likely to "follow the money into the EU and follow security into NATO". He said the Albanians had played their hand much better in the negotiations than the Serbs who had gotten distracted by so-called technical issues.

Serbia adopted a new constitution on 30 September, granting Kosovo autonomy but denying it full independence. The text will be put to a popular referendum on 28-29 October.

US voices "strong support" for Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration

Text of report in English by Macedonian news agency Makfax

Skopje: The United States strongly supports Macedonia in its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, but urge for speeding up of reforms and dialogue between the ruling power and the opposition.

This was stated after today's meeting of the Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki and US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo.

"We will back Macedonia in implementation of the necessary reforms and on its road to Euro-Atlantic integrations," DiCarlo said.

She added the highlights of discussions included also "the need of the rule of law, as well as the need of government's cooperation with all political parties, aimed at enhancing the efforts in the fields spanning battle against corruption, full implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, and backing of the process for determining the future status of Kosovo."

DiCarlo underscored the importance of "the judicial reforms, combating corruption, human trafficking, and respect of religious freedom and rights of all citizens."

Macedonian Minister Milososki confirmed this. "We will put a special focus on the fight against trafficking with human beings and organized crime in the region. We will also work with all religious communities in the country to improve the legislation referring to religious freedom," Milososki said after his meeting with DiCarlo.

As regards the Kosovo issue, Milososki said he and DiCarlo shared the stance that resolving of the Kosovo status should be carried out in the manner that will provide for strengthening of the region's stability.

"The process of reaching a solution on the Kosovo status is also a good opportunity for closing the technical issue of the border demarcation. We express our gratitude to the international community for its support regarding this, but also to Pristina's authorities, who acknowledge the fact that this issue poses as a challenge that requires a positive response," Milososki said.

Source: Makfax news agency, Skopje, in English 1325 gmt 23 Oct 06

Kosovo Islamic leaders join call for independence

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 23 (Reuters) - In a rare foray into politics, Islamic leaders in Kosovo on Monday added their voice to the Albanian majority's call for independence from Serbia.

Most of Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians are nominally Muslim, but they are proud of the territory's secular tradition. This year's Ramadan passed with little trace of piety.

Marking the Eid al-Fitr feast in the capital, Pristina, the head of the Kosovo Islamic community, Mufti Naim Ternava, said independence for the breakaway Serbian province was the only acceptable outcome to talks expected to end within months.

"We are waiting for the U.N. Security Council to make its decision," he told worshippers at the 15th century Sultan Mehmet Fatih mosque. "The will and desire of the people should be respected. Independence is the only option."

Islamic leaders have little influence in Kosovo and rarely venture into politics, contrary to Serbia's warnings that an independent Kosovo would become a hotbed of extremism in Europe.

Ismail Hasani, professor of religion at Pristina University, said just 8-10 percent of people regularly attend prayers, "and the majority of these people are 50 and older."

"Albanians are too busy dealing with their economic, political and social status," he told Reuters. "The Islamic religion is accepted as a vehicle of culture and tradition."

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing and atrocities against Albanians in a two-year war with guerrillas.

Talks on its "final status" began in February, with Western diplomats predicting some form of independence within months.

The Kosovo Albanians' secularism contrasts with the increasingly vocal role played by the Orthodox Church in Serbia's politics and society since the country emerged from 50 years of Socialist rule in the 1990s.

Many Serbs see Kosovo as the birthplace of their Orthodox faith, a land dotted with centuries-old monasteries.

Nationalists in the Church and political elite in Belgrade have tried to play up the Islamic angle to block Kosovo's bid for independence, warning of al Qaeda infiltration and Muslim radicalisation in Europe.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Serbian PM not surprised UN envoy Ahtisaari failed to get Nobel Peace Prize

Text of report by Serbian TV on 21 October

[Presenter] Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has said that by placing Kosovo-Metohija into the preamble of the [new Serbian] Constitution, one in the best manner makes it known - from the point of view of historical and legal facts, primarily from that of the international law - that this province is an integral part of Serbia.

The constitutional preamble is merely copied from the United Nations Charter according to which there can be no alterations of internationally recognized borders, Kostunica said in an interview for tomorrow's edition of Vecernje novosti [daily].

The prime minister emphasized that the issue of the Constitution was an issue of the country's future, adding that one should not doubt that the citizens followed the events surrounding the drafting thereof with a great deal of care. The constitution is directly linked to the protection of our essential state and national interests, and here I primarily mean those concerning Kosovo-Metohija, Kostunica said.

Asked if the constitutional preamble would have an obliging character in the first place, Kostunica replied that it would stop having an obliging character the moment the UN Charter stop having it.

The prime minister said that he was not surprised with the fact that [UN special Kosovo envoy] Martti Ahtisaari had not received a Nobel Peace Prize, because his moves during the [Kosovo] negotiations were contrary to the spirit of this award.

Source: RTS 1 TV, Belgrade, in Serbian 1730 gmt 21 Oct 06

Saturday, October 21, 2006

UN and NATO consider setting up Kosovo army -report

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The United Nations and NATO are considering creating a 2,500-strong army in Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, according to a report on Saturday.

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari discussed the possibility during meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore quoted diplomatic sources as saying.

"Diplomatic sources told Koha that much of the discussion with Ahtisaari was about how to create a Kosovo army or as they call it, a Kosovo security force," it reported. "It would have 2,500 lightly armed soldiers, and would be trained by NATO."

Western diplomats in Kosovo say the majority-Albanian territory will likely have its own army after a decision on its future, but the idea remains highly sensitive due to the fears of the minority 100,000 remaining Serbs.

Kosovo has its own multi-ethnic police force and a civil emergency force made up mainly of former guerrillas.

Ahtisaari's spokeswoman, Hua Jaing, told Reuters the Brussels meeting was "closed" and she could not discuss the details.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing.

Ahtisaari opened direct talks in February and is pressing ahead with plans to submit a proposal on Kosovo's "final status" within the year, despite signs a U.N. Security Council vote could be delayed into 2007 by Serbian elections.

In Vienna on Saturday, the former Finnish president briefed representatives of the major powers on his "initial ideas", which diplomats say will likely lead to a form of independence supervised by the European Union and NATO.

No statements were made after the meeting with the Contact Group guiding Balkan diplomacy -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

The 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority is impatient for independence after years of economic and political limbo. U.N. officials in Kosovo fear a postponment of several months could invite fresh ethnic violence.

U.N. envoy presents ideas on Kosovo's future to group overseeing status talks

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - The chief United Nations envoy for Kosovo presented his preliminary ideas for the future of the province Saturday to members of a six-nation group overseeing ongoing negotiations, his spokeswoman said.

The meeting between Maartti Ahtisaari and representatives of the so-called Contact Group -- which includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Italy -- was short, informal and one of a series of regular meetings, spokeswoman Hua Jiang told The Associated Press. She declined to provide details about what was said during the closed-door gathering.

Kosovo is formally a part of Serbia, but has been under U.N. and NATO control since 1999, when a NATO-led aerial bombardment forced Serbia to halt a government crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels who had been fighting for independence since 1998.

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians want the province to become an independent state, while the minority Serbs want it to remain part of Serbia.

Talks to resolve Kosovo's future began earlier this year, but Belgrade's offer of broad autonomy has been rejected by the ethnic Albanians, who demand a complete secession and full sovereignty.

The Contact Group has set the end of the year as the provisional deadline for conclusion of the talks. Ahtisaari is expected to present his proposal to the U.N. Security Council in the coming months.

Serbian leaders suffer two heavy blows on Kosovo in one day - commentary

Text of unattributed commentary: "Key to Europe"; published by Serbian newspaper Danas on 18 October

Serbia's two major branches of executive power suffered two new heavy blows in one day. First Albanian President Alfred Moisiu threw diplomacy and good manners to the wind when he told his host Boris Tadic that Kosovo should be independent. Moisiu was speaking at a regional summit on the fight against organized crime, held in Karadjordjevo. Later on Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica returned from Luxembourg, his job undone. Kostunica was told, as Tadic before him in Helsinki on 13 October, that the EU would not unfreeze talks with Serbia as long as Ratko Mladic was at large. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte explained to the EU troika why the most wanted Hague fugitive was evading justice. She claims Belgrade lacks the political will to arrest Mladic, that the authorities are persuading him to surrender. Obviously Solana, Rhen, and Tuomioja accurately passed this on to the EU leaders.

The EU ministers also postponed talks on visa facilities for certain categories of the population and UN Kosovo envoy Maarti Ahtisaari confirmed that he would propose a final solution for Kosovo to the UN Security Council before the year is out. In all likelihood, the Finnish diplomat will consider neither Serbia's old nor new constitution. His vision of the future Kosovo is closer to the one Moisiu calls for rather than Tadic and Kostunica.

Careful political observers will say that nothing new happened two days ago in Luxembourg and Karadjordjevo. Europe has been explicit since last May: Mladic is the only key that will unlock Europe's doors. The stance of the Albanian president is nothing new, they say, the international community has been saying the same thing all over the world, with the exception partly of Russia and part of the region. This simplified view makes the conclusion from Luxembourg and the lesson from Karadjordjevo appear indeed quite benign. Actually, Europe's refusing a proposal put forward by Tadic and Kostunica shows that Europe does not trust Serbia, to put it in the simplest of terms. Moisiu's public statement about redrawing a sovereign state carries the same tone: Committing international and legal heresy in a state the borders of which he would redraw is telling what he thinks of his hosts and neighbours. The humiliation is deja and it inescapably evokes the contempt to which Milosevic's Serbia was exposed. Everything else is too much a serious warning, even a threat. Europe will not open its doors to help the current or future government, president, or prime minister. It will open them when Belgrade does what it has deferred all along, justifying the delay with reasons that Brussels will not accept.

Source: Danas, Belgrade, in Serbian 18 Oct 06 p9

Monday, October 16, 2006

Delay to UN's Kosovo decision risks new tensions FT INTERVIEW AGIM CEKU.

The Kosovo government is being undermined by the prospect of a delayed United Nations decision on the future of the province, according to Agim Ceku, prime minister.

He says the delay could spark renewed conflict in the Balkans.

Mr Ceku told the Financial Times that Russia's stance on granting Kosovo independence was hardening and that he had received no guarantees on a recent visit to Washington.

But he believed there remained full international support for independence and hoped that the Contact Group of nations, which oversees negotiations on Kosovo's future, would fulfil its September pledge to resolve by the end of the year the last question remaining from the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Efforts to "make things easier" for Serbia were creating pressures for a delay, he said, and should be overcome by imposing a solution on Belgrade.

"The people of Kosovo have heard the Contact Group's statement that the process will be finished by the end of the year," Mr Ceku said.

Any delay would cause "great disappointment, loss of credibility in the -process . . . loss of credibility of our government. There would be political in-stability."

Since Slobodan Milosevic's Serb forces were driven from Kosovo by a Nato bombing campaign in 1999, the province has been a ward of the UN. In a referendum at the end of the month, Serbs will vote on a draft constitution proclaiming Kosovo an "integral part" of Serbia.

Martti Ahtisaari, the UN envoy responsible for the Kosovo talks, has hinted that snap Serbian elections could push a final-status decision back into the new year. Kosovo fears there will be a compromise granting it almost total autonomy but stopping short of full -independence.

Mr Ceku's meetings with British ministers in London this week produced fresh declarations of support. But diplomatic sources said the US, France and Britain would have to work hard to assuage Russian and -Chinese sensitivities over setting a precedent for -secession before the Kosovo decision came before the UN Security Council.

Mr Ceku, who travels to Paris next week, has had no reply to his request to visit Moscow. Western diplomats believe the Kremlin may be keeping its intentions unclear in order to exploit the secessionist ambitions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia without alienating traditional Serb allies.

But Mr Ceku wants to convince Russia that Kosovo is a unique case. About 10,000 ethnic Albanians died in "ethnic cleansing" during the 1998-99 war.

Serbia Accused of Ignoring Key Fugitive

LUXEMBOURG (AP) - The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Monday accused Serbia of making no effort to catch top suspect Radko Mladic, despite the European Union's insistence that the fugitive general's capture is vital to that nation's membership ambitions.

Mladic has been at large since his 1995 indictment in connection with the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica during the war in Serbia's neighbor, Bosnia. Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor, said Serbia's search efforts are lacking.

"There is no real political will and investigative will to find Mladic," Del Ponte told reporters, after briefing EU foreign ministers. "It's almost a smoke screen."

The EU has suspended negotiations with Serbia on a trade-and-aid agreement designed to pave the way for EU membership, saying Belgrade must prove it is fully cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Del Ponte said the EU should keep up the pressure to persuade the Serbs to move against Mladic, who prosecutors believe to be hiding in Serbia with the help of hard-liners in the police and military.

"They will never act to find and arrest Mladic," Del Ponte complained. "Probably, they want him to voluntarily surrender."

Also Monday, the EU ministers met Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to press him to cooperate with the tribunal, saying Serbia's cooperation could open the way to speedy conclusion of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.

"We are ready to resume the negotiations on the very day that Serbia resumes cooperation," said Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner in charge of membership talks. "The lack of progress is a source of frustration for us."

Kostunica was also grilled over his nation's new draft constitution, which has raised concerns within the EU because it declares independence-seeking Kosovo an integral part of Serb territory.

European officials have said Belgrade's position on Kosovo is provocative and, if passed in an Oct. 28-29 referendum, could scuttle U.N.-led talks on the future status of the Serb province.

In a news conference, Kostunica insisted Serb authorities were committed to cooperation with the tribunal, and said the new constitution would open the way to a new democratic era in Serbia.

He stressed that Serbia would not accept an independent Kosovo, but said his government would consider "the highest possible substantial autonomy" for the province.

Status talks, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, started early this year but have yet to produce results, with the Serbs rejecting calls by the ethnic Albanian majority for full independence. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since a 1999 war.

Ahtisaari was expected to report to the U.N. Security Council by the end of the year on a possible solution to Kosovo's future. However, he warned last week that there was no negotiated deal in sight.

Chief U.N. prosecutor accuses Serbia of making no effort to catch top fugitive Mladic

LUXEMBOURG (AP) - The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Monday accused Serbia of making no effort to catch top suspect Radko Mladic, despite the European Union's insistence that the fugitive general's capture was vital for the Balkan nation's membership ambitions.

"It's almost a smoke screen," Carla Del Ponte told reporters, after briefing EU foreign ministers. "There is no real political will and investigative will to find Mladic."

The EU has suspended negotiations with Serbia on a trade-and-aid agreement designed to pave the way for EU membership, saying Belgrade must prove it is fully cooperating with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Mladic has evaded justice since his 1995 indictment for the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica during the war in neighboring Bosnia.

Del Ponte said the EU should keep up the pressure to persuade the Serbs to move against Mladic, who prosecutors believe to be hiding in Serbia with the help of hard-liners in the police and military.

"They will never act to find and arrest Mladic," Del Ponte complained. "Probably, they want him to voluntarily surrender."

Following the meeting with Del Ponte, the EU ministers met Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to press him to cooperate with the tribunal, saying Serbia's cooperation could open the way to speedy conclusion of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.

"We are ready to resume the negotiations on the very day that Serbia resumes cooperation," said Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner in charge of membership talks. "The lack of progress is a source of frustration for us."

Kostunica was also grilled over his nation's new draft constitution, which has raised concerns within the EU because it declares independence-seeking Kosovo an integral part of Serb territory.

European officials have said Belgrade's position on Kosovo was as provocative and, if passed in an Oct. 28-29 referendum, it could scuttle U.N.-led talks on the future status of the Serb province.

In a news conference, Kostunica insisted Serb authorities were committed to cooperation with the tribunal, and said the new constitution would open the way to a new democratic era in Serbia. He stressed that Serbia would not accept an independent Kosovo, but said his government would consider "the highest possible substantial autonomy" for the province.

Status talks, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, started early this year but have yet to produce results, with the Serb's rejecting calls by the ethnic Albanian majority for full independence. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since a 1999 war.

Ahtisaari was expected to report to the U.N. Security Council by the end of the year on a possible solution to Kosovo's future; however, he warned last week that there was no negotiated deal in sight.

Serbia Still Not Cooperating On Mladic - UN Prosecutor

LUXEMBOURG (AP)--The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal said Monday she would tell European Union foreign ministers that Serbia is still not cooperating with her efforts to bring fugitives to justice - a key condition for the resumption of talks to prepare the Balkan nation for E.U. membership.

Asked if her report to the E.U. ministers would be negative, Carla Del Ponte said, "yes, of course, because Mladic is not in The Hague."

The Bosnian Serb's fugitive war leader Gen. Ratko Mladic is a leading target for the international court based in the Dutch city.

Del Ponte spoke briefly to reporters on her way to her talks with the E.U. ministers. They, in turn, would meet with Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica.

The 25-nation bloc has suspended negotiations with Serbia on a trade-and-aid agreement designed to pave the way for E.U. membership, saying Belgrade must prove it is fully cooperating with the war crimes tribunal. Asked if she saw any encouraging signs, Del Ponte said, "absolutely not."

Kostunica was also likely to be grilled over his nation's draft constitution, which has raised concerns within the E.U. because it declares independence-seeking Kosovo an integral part of Serb territory.

European officials said Belgrade's position on Kosovo was seen as provocative and if passed in an Oct. 28-29 referendum, it could scuttle U.N.-led talks on the future status of the Serb province.

Status talks, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, started early this year but have yet to produce results, with the ethnic Albanians demanding independence from Serbia and Belgrade offering broad autonomy but no independence. Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since a 1999 war.

Despite the lack of progress in the talks, E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana was confident Kosovo would not slide back into violence.

"I have no doubt it will be resolved in a peaceful manner," he told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.

Ahtisaari is expected to report to the U.N. Security Council by the end of the year on a possible solution to Kosovo's future; however he warned last week there was no negotiated deal in sight because of the deep divisions between both sides.

Mladic has evaded justice since his 1995 indictment for the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica during the war in neighboring Bosnia. He is believed by U.N. prosecutors to be hiding in Serbia with the help of hard-liners in the police and military, but also a litter of Serb loyalists. [ 16-10-06 1520GMT ]

Year-end elections good timetable for Serbia-Solana

LUXEMBOURG, Oct 16 (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday he hoped Serbia would hold early elections by the end of the year but the United Nations said it was committed to a decision on Kosovo's final status by then.

Serbian President Boris Tadic pleaded last week for a postponement of the U.N. final status proposal for the breakaway province, which is likely to lead to its independence from Belgrade, saying it was better to have elections first.

But U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari, who must present a proposal on Kosovo's final status to the United Nations, said he remained committed to the year-end timeframe set by the Contact Group of big powers overseeing the diplomacy. "They haven't changed their line," he said ahead of talks with EU officials in Luxembourg. "It means I will have to be in the Security Council well before the end of the year.

"As long as I don't hear otherwise, this is the timetable I am going to stick to."

Speaking ahead of talks in Luxembourg with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Solana said he hoped for confirmation of the timetable for Serbian elections, widely expected in December.

"I hope the election may take place before the end of the year," he told reporters.

Solana declined to comment on Kosovo, saying that was being handled by Ahtisaari. But asked if he feared violence, he said: "I have no doubt it will be resolved in a peaceful manner."


Ahtisaari was asked if the United Nations would impose a solution for Kosovo if the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians were unable to reach an agreement.

"Anyone in their right mind would always prefer a negotiated settlement," he said, "but if that is not possible then some proposals have to be put to the parties and the Security Council."

EU foreign ministers were expected to support Ahtisaari when they meet on Monday and Tuesday in Luxembourg and are set to warn parties against any attempt to delay the process.

Some EU diplomats have said it would make sense to allow a few weeks' slippage for the conclusion of the final status process to accommodate the Serbian election.

But since all Serbian parties are equally opposed to relinquishing sovereignty over the province, British and U.S. officials argue there is no point in dragging out the process.

Solana highlighted economic progress in Serbia but said reopening of suspended talks on closer ties with the European Union remained dependent on Belgrade's cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

But chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said on Monday she had seen no progress in Serbia towards catching major war crime suspects, such as Ratko Mladic.

Asked as she arrived for talks with EU ministers if she had seen any reason for encouragement, Del Ponte said: "No, absolutely not, nothing." (Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander and Paul Taylor)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Çeku asks Great Britain support for creation of a Kosovo Defence Force (Dailies)

Daily newspapers and TV broadcast report that in his meetings with British officials in London, the Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Çeku has called for Great Britain’s support for the creation of the Kosovo Defence Force. In the same meeting, the Kosovo PM also emphasised the importance of having a decision on Kosovo’s final status in 2006.

Koha Ditore notes that a press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said that the British Defence Minister Adam Ingram has agreed that delays in the resolution of status are in no one’s interest. Ingram has confirmed that Great Britain will not leave Kosovo and added that the British Army will help in the creation of the Kosovo Defence Force.

The paper also notes that Çeku and Ingram agreed that the situation in Kosovo was on the positive path of creating a climate of trust between the communities and that the security situation is at a satisfactory level.

Epoka e Re quotes Çeku on the front page as saying that independence is the only solution that would stabilise Kosovo and the region. “The commitment of Great Britain is a precious contribution to peace and security in Kosovo and the region, and we welcome the engagement and the commitment of the British Government for a continuous presence in Kosovo, with special emphasis in building the defence force of Kosovo,” Çeku added.

Contact Group awaiting Ahtisaari’s proposals (Koha Ditore)

Member states of the Contact Group say they continue to support the work of the UN Status Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and the views that he may present during his work. Representatives of the CG also remind the negotiations sides the call done through the ministerial statement of the Contact Group countries.

“Ministerial statement of Contact Group of 20 September reiterates the need for both sides to be as serious and as flexible as possible to find a suitable solution,” the paper quotes head of US Office in Pristina Tina Kaidanow.

The paper recalls the statement of President Ahtisaari who said that no one in the horizon can see a sign that Pristina and Belgrade could come to a negotiated agreement for the Kosovo status.

Head of Russian Liaison Office in Pristina Andrej Dronov said, however, that his country wants the status process to end in an agreed settlement. “It is clear that Russian Federation wants a status reached through a negotiated agreement between sides in talks. It is therefore also clear that the Contact Group eagerly waits for a greater inclusion of Pristina and Belgrade in status process,” Dronov told Koha Ditore. Dronov explained that the officials in Moscow continues to support President Ahtisaari and expects him to use all possible resources before getting out with recommendations on status solution.

Patrick Mura, head of Italian office in Pristina, said that the work of UN Status Envoy is very difficult and that there has been very little movement in bridging the differences between the Pristina and Belgrade delegations. He said Ahtisaari enjoys full support from the Italian Government to come to the best recommendations under the given circumstances. “Then and only then we can be able to decide about future steps,” Mura pointed out.

Full support to Ahtisaari is also voiced by the German Government through its representative in Pristina Eugen Wollfarth who said that rigidity has been evident in the both delegations but stressed that official Pristina has made some movements in the technical issues but also in its interior politics. “Team of Unity, Government and Assembly are vigorously working on achievement of the process and deserve the full support of Kosovo citizens in building a free, democratic and modern society,” Wollfarth is quoted.

Ruairi O’Connell from the British Office in Pristina said that President Ahtisaari enjoys unreserved support from his government and that the process of Kosovo status resolution aims at creating structures that would give equal voice to all ethnic communities.

Representative of the French Government in Pristina Thierry Reynard said officials in Paris stand behind the September CG ministerial statement. “Contact Group continues to closely monitor the level of constructive engagement of both sides and will draw conclusions based on this. Efforts for a negotiated solution should not hide the fact that none of the parties can unilaterally block the course of status process,” Reynard said for the paper.

Kosovo PM trusts big powers to grant independence

LONDON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on Thursday he trusted the international community would grant the province independence by the end of the year.

"We trust the international community to drive this process through to the correct conclusion," Ceku said in a speech at Chatham House, the foreign policy think-tank, after meeting the British government on final status talks.

Ceku, a former guerrilla commander who fought Serb forces in 1999, reiterated there was only one outcome to international talks on the status of the province that would be acceptable to its 90 percent Albanian majority.

"We need independence now because we are convinced that there is no other workable solution," he said.

Kosovo has been under U.N. protection since 1999 when NATO troops took control following a bombing campaign to expel Serb forces.

The Contact Group of six countries -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia -- have led eight months of talks on Kosovo's future but have run into resolute opposition to independence from Belgrade.

Western powers fear delaying a decision could fuel Albanian suspicions and might provoke violent unrest and may have no alternative but to impose a solution.

Ceku said Serbia was alone in objecting to independence for Kosovo and that Contact Group efforts were focussed on trying to overcome its objections.

"We are all working on that and I hope we will get there soon," he said.

Kosovo president defends plan for setting up ethnic Serb municipality

Text of report in English by independent internet news agency KosovaLive

Gjilan [Gnjilane], 12 October: Kosova [Kosovo] President Fatmir Sejdiu during his visit to Viti [Vitina] received many critiques from citizens and municipal councillors, and he was warned that citizens of Viti are strongly against the establishment of the municipality of Kllokot [Klokot].

Citizens and municipal councillors openly expressed their dissatisfaction towards the ethnically-based decentralization, handing over to President Sejdiu 11,000 signatures of Viti residents against the establishment of the Serb municipality of Kllokot.

President Sejdiu said that decentralization is related to the structure of the future local self-administration, where the counsellors of local level will have the opportunity to take decisions on issues that were usually decided by the central level.

"The establishment of new municipalities is an aspect of Kosova's territorial reorganization, but which does not harm its integration," said President Sejdiu, adding that decisions of the Kosova delegation have been reached by consensus.

The head of the PDK [Democratic Party of Kosovo] Group of Councillors in the Viti Municipal Assembly, Daut Xhemajli, said that Viti has been punished with separation on ethnic bases without any previous consultation. "If the Negotiating Team does not withdraw the proposal for municipality of Kllokot, we have no reasons to stay in this hall," said Xhemajli.

Responding to these statements, President Sejdiu said that there is a unique stance within the Unity Team on this issue.

"It is important to move together and to maintain the unity inside the negotiating group," said President Sejdiu.

Source: KosovaLive website, Pristina, in English 12 Oct 06

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Unity of the Contact Group at risk (Koha Ditore)

Two months and a half before the ‘preferred’ deadline for the solution of Kosovo’s status, Koha Ditore reports in its lead story that according to some European officials there are huge differences within the Contact Group, between the US and the Great Britain on the one side, and Russia on the other.

According to these unnamed western diplomats, with the escalation in the relations between Russia and Georgia and with the anticipation of elections in Serbia, the status process in Kosovo can become a ‘collateral victim’.

Russia has some leverage in the Contact Group and so far it has not spoiled the plans of the Western countries in this group. However, it is now clearly showing that it does not agree with what they call ‘imposed solution’ and with ‘artificial deadlines’ for the solution of Kosovo’s status.

According to Koha Ditore Brussels’ diplomats will say that another meeting between Ahtisaari and the Contact group could take place by the end of the month, to retest the unit of the Contact Group.

Ahtisaari said in a conference in Helsinki that Russia is not interested in solving the status while Finland is chairing the EU, not even during Germany’s turn. “Perhaps Russia thinks that Kosovo status should be solved when Croatia chairs the EU, which is not yet a member,” he said according to some participants in the conference, writes Koha Ditore.

What seems enigmatic in this environment, says Koha Ditore, is the tentative of Germany to position itself somewhere ‘in the middle’. “Germany is trying to create possibilities for an interim solution for Kosovo which would be some sort of independence without sovereignty. Germanys also like the idea that Kosovo should not become a UN member and that it should not have an army. They think that full independence of Kosovo should only be reached when Kosovo is mature enough to integrate in the EU, so for an indefinite period of time,” Koha Ditore quotes an unnamed EU official involved in the Contact Group processes.

Koha Ditore writes that according to the assessment of some diplomats, for Germany, good relations with Russia have always been a priority, sometimes more important than relations with the US.

EU sources say that all the efforts are being made to maintain the unity of the Contact Group because the differences between Russia and the Western states within the CG are coming more and more to the surface, says the paper.

UCK war associations say "sovereign" Kosovo is only acceptable solution

Excerpt from report by Kosovo Albanian Kosovapress news agency website

Prishtina [Pristina], 6 October: "We will never accept from anyone any solution but Kosova [Kosovo] as a sovereign and integral state. This is our debt to the nation. It is our obligation and duty to all those who gave their lives for the fatherland," Faik Fazliu, chairman of the UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army] Organization of War Veterans [OVL], said today at a press conference.

He said that the war associations had released a statement addressed to the people of Kosova, the Assembly, the government, the Unity [negotiation] Team, the offices of the Quint [United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and France], UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], and the UN secretary general, and their own members. He went on to say that the international community, as well as the Albanian factor, was playing games with our will and fate.

"A national tragedy is about to happen - this time with the blessing of our supposedly elected representatives. Therefore, it is our patriotic duty to inform you that we are against any actions that could lead to new bloodshed in Kosova. The games that are being played with the political status of Kosova at the expense of our people by our naive and corrupt Albanian politicians and certain quarters of the international community point to the fact that new bloodshed is being prepared. Our duty is to tell the people about this situation so that they are warned about it in time," he said.

Fazliu said that the biggest misfortune is that the Unity Team includes individuals who had always believed that they could convince Serbia to accept the independence of Kosova voluntarily in the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act.

"While these big mouths have been talking about dialogue on independence, Serbia has adopted the new constitution, defining Kosova as part of Serbia. That is how the United Nations and the UN Security Council see Kosova in Serbia's new application for its third UN membership. At this critical stage, many developments regarding the sovereignty and integrity of Albanian lands are taking place, supposedly under the supervision of the international factor. Furthermore, the Albanian factor is proud of its cooperativeness with this factor, even though, to this day, almost half of Kosova is administered by Serbia," Fazliu said.

Elsewhere, Xhavit Jashari, chairman of the UCK Martyrs' Families Association [ShFD], said that the servility of the Kosova Government was unprecedented, as it cared more about the interests of those who were trying to destroy Kosova than about the interests of the people.

"A government that is more concerned about party interests cannot be a national or people's government because it is not working for, or thinking about the future of Kosova or taking care of its interests. It is only looking after the interests of the parties that form it. No one throughout history has been able to play games with the Albanian people in the interests of the powerful. The history of the creation of nations and states to date has shown this," he said.

He said that UNMIK had taken advantage of the lack of respect for the liberation war and the Kosova Provisional Government and had overstepped its authority of international supervision for its own ends and that, with its games, it had been destroying Kosova's assets.

"The Albanian people see the UNMIK staff with suspicion and as an enemy, not as an instrument for establishing a democratic system. There are so many instances of abuse by this institution, in collusion with the servile Albanian factor - abuses that have been very detrimental to Kosova - that the people today see UNMIK as the most hated invader of Albanian lands," he said, accusing UNMIK of ignoring the values of the UCK war. [Passage omitted]

Source: Kosovapress news agency website, Pristina, in Albanian 6 Oct 06

Senior official in north Serbia urges boycott of constitutional referendum

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A senior official in northern Serbia on Wednesday called for a boycott of the upcoming referendum on a new constitution that declares independence-seeking Kosovo an integral part of Serb territory.

The draft constitution -- drawn up by Serbia's main political parties and approved this month by parliament -- also defines the country as independent for the first time since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Bojan Kostres, the parliament speaker in the northern Vojvodina province, urged people to reject the draft constitution by boycotting the referendum -- adding to the mounting criticism against the document.

More than half of some 6 million Serbian voters must approve the draft constitution in the Oct. 28-29 referendum for it to take effect.

Critics say it was drawn up too hastily, with no public discussion beforehand, and does not define Serbia as a modern European state.

Kostres said it did not grant sufficient autonomy to Vojvodina, the richest province in Serbia, and that a referendum boycott was "the only way to defend the interest of Vojvodina."

Several other liberal parties have also announced plans to boycott the vote. Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia said they would stay away, to protest the document's including Kosovo within the definition of Serbia's borders.

Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, is seeking independence in U.N.-led talks on the province's future status. Serbia as well as the province's Serb minority wants it to have broad autonomy but remain within Serbian territory.

Serbian officials have said Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians will not be invited to vote on the draft constitution.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government launched a massive pro-referendum campaign, enlisting Serbia's soccer team and prominent individuals on its side.

Kostunica defended the draft text on Tuesday, saying it would "stabilize Serbia and prevent its disintegration."

An opinion poll published Wednesday by the Medium Gallup polling agency indicated turnout would be between 56 and 58 percent. No margin of error was given.

Kosovo premier visits UK, France to drum up support for independence

Text of report by Radio-Television Kosovo TV website on 11 October

Prime Minister Agim Ceku is to pay a visit to London at the invitation of the British government. Today, he is scheduled to start meetings with government officials and influential British personalities. The most important meeting is with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Next week, the prime minister will also pay a visit to Paris.

He will be seeking Britain's and France's support for a resolution of [Kosovo's] status during this year and for the process to end with Kosovo's independence.

Source: RTK TV website, Pristina, in Albanian 11 Oct 06

Kosovo Assembly to set aside 20 seats for minority MPs

Text of report by Radio-Television Kosovo TV website on 10 October

The Kosova [Kosovo] Assembly will reserve 20 seats for non-Albanian minority officials. Ten seats will be given to Serb officials and the other ten to officials of other minority communities in the region.

Kosova President Fatmir Sejdiu said ministerial posts will also be reserved for minority officials. President Sejdiu said that in this way Prishtina [Pristina] will be able to regulate guarantees for the minorities in Kosova. One of the guarantees for minorities will be that Serbs will be given a university in Serbian, the one in northern [Kosovska] Mitrovica, Kosova President Fatmir Sejdiu said.

Source: RTK TV website, Pristina, in Albanian 10 Oct 06

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Kosovo rises on international agenda ; The UN is to decide soon on independence for the Serbian province - a move the US supports.

With unsettling nuclear developments in North Korea, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and political upheaval in the Middle East, little attention is being paid to the Balkans, which might seem like a preoccupation of the post-cold-war 1990s.

But Kosovo - a Serbian province of 2 million people that spawned a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 - is on the brink of bursting onto the world stage once again. With the United States and the European Union pressing for resolution of Kosovo's final status this year, it once looked like independence was assured. But now Serbia is finagling to put that decision off - a move that could awaken Balkan unrest once again.

After seven years of United Nations control, the majority Albanian and Muslim population is clamoring for independence. But the Serbian (and largely Christian) minority is campaigning to remain attached to Serbia. The Serbian Kosovars claim that independence would mean creation of an Islamic fundamentalist state in Europe and expose them to ethnic violence.

Troops and economic investment as factors

Beyond those issues, other factors seem primed to raise Kosovo's status on the international agenda. The US would like to free up the 1,700 peacekeeping troops it still has in the province. Economic investment in a region that is an important trade and energy route is being held up by uncertainty over Kosovo's status.

And while some experts warn that failure to resolve Kosovo's status could turn it into a powder keg once again, still others caution against hasty action: They say Kosovo is being closely watched by other restless regions in eastern Europe and central Asia - including in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova - and could be used to fire up breakaway movements.

"It may seem hard to imagine that there was a day not so long ago when the Balkans were the biggest foreign-policy issue on the US plate, but the simple issue is still there," says Daniel Serwer, a Balkans expert at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington. "Part of the population wants to pull away and be independent, and another part wants things to stay the same. It's the repercussions that make things complex."

US officials have been saying since January that this would be the year of decision on Kosovo's final status. "The people of Kosovo deserve greater clarity, and as we approach the end of the year I suspect they will get greater clarity," said Daniel Fried, US assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, on a stop last month in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

The UN's special envoy to Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, is supposed to deliver a status-settlement recommendation next month. Anticipating the report will favor independence, Serbia is seeking to head it off by proposing a new constitution that specifies Kosovo as part of Serbia.

US and European Union officials say Serbia's actions are unlikely to derail the push to determine Kosovo's status - though they say the tactics (possibly including a referendum on the new constitution and elections) could delay a decision, which is ultimately to be made by the UN Security Council, until next year.

While those maneuverings are going on, in Washington supporters and opponents of Kosovo's independence are redoubling efforts to win adherents.

Warnings from anti-independence groups

Anti-independence groups backed by Serbia have been running newspaper ads and sponsoring seminars in Washington to warn of a radical Islamist state and renewed ethnic cleansing if Kosovo is allowed to break from Serbia.

"Granting independence to Kosovo would be a reward for the crimes the Albanians have committed, and would create a base for criminality and jihad in the very heart of Europe," says Artemije Radosavljevic, a Serbian Orthodox bishop in Kosovo.

Bishop Artemije, who has made several trips to Washington to plead the Serbian population's case, claims that more than 3,000 Serbs of Kosovo have been killed or kidnapped in the years of international administration. He also says that 150 churches and monasteries have been razed and thousands of Serbian houses destroyed. He says he has found sympathetic ears in the US Congress, but little movement from a pro-independence stance in the State Department.

Mr. Serwer, who is also vice president of USIP's Center for Post- Conflict Peace and Stability Operations, says that while there have been some cases of violence against Serbs, the numbers have been "grossly trumped up" by the anti-independence lobby to make for a more alarming picture.

But Serwer reserves his ire for the references these groups make to Islamic terrorism "in an attempt to tap into American fears," he says.

"These claims, that go so far as to equate an independent Kosovo to an Al Qaeda refuge, are so outrageous and blatantly anti-Muslim that they are despicable," Serwer says.

Pro-Western orientation

Holding a similar assessment is Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and an independence advocate. "The population of Kosovo is one of the more pro-Western and pro- American populations in the world, " he says. "They had volunteers to fight [with the US] in Afghanistan and Iraq, so to say they are [Islamic] fundamentalists is to spread disinformation."

Beyond that, Mr. Bugajski cites reasons to settle Kosovo's status now. He worries the population could start to see the peacekeepers as occupiers, and he says uncertainty over the province's status is discouraging foreign investment. "I also believe that Serbia doesn't need the distraction of Kosovo as it modernizes and moves towards membership in the European Union," he says.

Indeed, some European officials say the international community must be careful not to play the Kosovo issue in a way that reinforces reactionary forces in the anticipated elections.

Such potential political implications have other experts cautioning about Kosovo's influence. "This goes beyond Kosovo and affects a number of countries in the greater Black Sea area that are fractured," says Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of the National Interest political journal in Washington. "You have to at least ask the question if a too-hasty move to independence in Kosovo encourages the disintegration of other states."(c) Copyright 2006. The Christian Science Monitor