Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Montenegro independence vote May 21, says opposition

PODGORICA, Serbia and Montenegro, Feb 28 (Reuters) - The Adriatic coast republic of Montenegro will hold a referendum on on May 21 to determine if it remains in a union with much larger Serbia or strikes out on its own as an independent state.

"It has been agreed to hold a referendum on May 21, 2006, and to postpone regular local elections until autumn, and to hold them together with a general election," Montenegro's three pro-Serbia opposition parties said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ruling parties, which favour independence and have long campaigned for the referendum, declined to say officially that a date had finally been set. But government sources confirmed it.

Both sides held talks on Tuesday with a European Union envoy, Miroslav Lajcak, who has been brokering an accord on the rules of the plebiscite. Terms and date were to expected to be endorsed by the 77-seat parliament on Wednesday and Thursday.

Montenegrins will be asked to decide whether to declare independence or remain linked to their much larger neighbour in the three-year-old State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, a body critics say is totally dysfunctional.

If Montenegro chooses to quit the union, it could leave Serbia even before Kosovo, the Albanian-dominated province whose future status is now the subject of U.N.-mediated talks, wins a widely predicted "conditional independence".


On Monday the pro-independence ruling party and the pro-union opposition agreed to EU-proposed referendum rules, which set a threshold of 55 percent of over half the electorate for a Yes vote for independence to be ruled valid.

"Montenegro has sent Europe a very responsible and very European message and that is very good for Montenegro," Lajcak said.

Serbia and Montenegro are all that is left of the six-member Yugoslav federation which broke up in war in the 1990s.

The EU persuaded them to stay together three years ago, fearing a split would create further instability in the Balkans. But it conceded Montenegro could ask its people this year to decide this year whether to stay in the union or break away.

The latest opinion poll, carried out in December, showed 41.4 percent support independence, 32.3 percent oppose it, 14.9 percent are undecided and 11.4 percent would not say.

Present-day Montenegro was populated by Slavs in the sixth century, and later came under Byzantine and Ottoman control. It became de facto independent in the late 18th century and proclaimed a kingdom in 1910, but was incorporated into Serbia after the First World War.

Of Montenegro's 650,000 people, some 62 percent say they are Montenegrin, some 10 percent Serb, 15 percent Muslim, 7 percent Albanian and the rest 'other'.

Roughly the size of Northern Ireland, it got its name -- which means Black Mountain -- from the thick forests that cover almost 55 percent of the land. (Additional reporting by Ellie Tzortzi)


BELGRADE, Feb. 27, 2006 (IPS/GIN) -- Hearings began Monday in a case where Serbia and Montenegro is charged with genocide, crimes of war and aggression in the 1992-95 conflict, the first time a country rather than its leaders has had to face charges of genocide.

"The case is of immense importance for my state," lawyer for Bosnia-Herzegovina Sakib Softic said as hearings began at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The ICJ is the court founded by the United Nations (UN) to deal with disputes among states.

"It (the aggression and war) was like a man-made tsunami that destroyed the very essence of my country, where non-Serbs were taken down the road of hell through horrifying loss of lives, youth, property, towns and villages," Softic said. "If it is possible to recover at all, we'll need several generations to heal, reconstruct and build normal lives again."

Bosnia-Herzegovina launched the case against the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in March 1993 while the war was still raging. It said the former Yugoslavia and its Belgrade-based army backed Bosnian Serbs in their genocidal effort to exterminate Bosniak Muslims and other non-Serbs.

The case now is against Serbia and Montenegro because that is what remains of former Yugoslavia.

The aggression in the 1990s led to the death of thousands, and the devastation of the economy of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Bosnia-Herzegovina government in Sarajevo has demanded $100 billion in compensation.

"This is a historic case," international law professor Vojin Dimitrijevic told IPS. "If pronounced guilty, Serbia and Montenegro will be the first state in history pronounced as genocidal by this court."

The war ended in 1995 and the wartime leaders are gone from the political scene, but Sarajevo refused offers by the new authorities of Yugoslavia, which became Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, for a negotiated settlement.

Former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic fell from power in 2000. He faces trial for war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague.

"This is a highly, crucially important case," said Sulejman Tihic, Muslim member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency that is now shared between Muslim, Croat and Serb leaders. "The case should bring truth, see that justice is done and help establish new relations of mutual trust between two neighborly nations, Bosnia and Serbia," Tihic told Belgrade media.

Sarajevo media view the case as already won and have called it the final punishment for Serbia.

But legal experts say it will be extremely hard to prove that a state, in this case what is now Serbia and Montenegro, together with Bosnian Serbs, had planned the genocide or extermination of one group.

"Such things are extremely hard to prove, despite all the events that took place in Bosnia," Dimitrijevic said. "There are no documents, records or any real things in writing that would indicate deliberate intention to exterminate non-Serbs."

Sakib Softic and legal experts in Sarajevo have said that proof could come from the sentences pronounced by the ICTY.

"Rulings in cases dealing with Srebrenica (in Bosnia-Herzegovina) clearly named genocide, in the cases of (Bosnian Serb commanders) Radislav Krstic and Vidoje Blagojevic," Softic said.

The two were found guilty by the ICTY of genocide when Bosnian Serb forces massacred up to 8,000 Muslim boys and men after overrunning Srebrenica in July 1995.

"Regardless of charges of genocide, the aggravating circumstances for Serbia's involvement and support to the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) in the war might come from the material dealing with Ratko Mladic," military analyst Aleksandar Radic told IPS.

Former BSA general Ratko Mladic, who led the operation on Srebrenica, has been a fugitive from justice for years.

Serbia is under strong pressure to find and extradite him to face trial at the ICTY. Serbia faces cancellation of talks for joining the European Union if it fails to hand him over soon.

Military archives made available to the Serbian public in the past couple of weeks show clear connections between Mladic, his BSA and the army of former Yugoslavia.

But Serbian lawyer in the case Radoslav Stojanovic told IPS that "the state cannot be found responsible for genocide. It is extremely hard to establish the intention of a state, to define it. It is also gravely unjust to put the blame on the whole Serbian nation, people who live in Serbia, for the wrongdoings done in the name of Serbs in general."

Stojanovic and other international law experts say there are contradictions in the ICJ where Serbia is concerned.

When Serbia tried to launch a case against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing in 1999, the ICJ ruled that this was outside its jurisdiction because at that time Serbia was not a member of the United Nations.

"Serbia was not a member of the U.N. in 1993 as well (when war raged in Bosnia), and we'll try to dispute the jurisdiction of this court in this case now," Stojanovic said.

Serbia was expelled from the United Nations in 1992 due to its involvement in wars in Croatia and Bosnia. It was re-admitted only after Milosevic fell from power in 2000.

Croatian international law expert Ivo Josipovic told IPS that "any decision by the ICJ will have its place in the history of law, political history and history itself, as this court had no prior case dealing with the implementation of the U.N. conventions on prevention of and punishment of crimes of genocide."

The court will sit until May this year and is expected to pronounce its verdict by the middle of next year.

Minority Rights Guaranteed In Any Kosovo Settlement -UN

BRUSSELS (AP)--Minority rights will be guaranteed in any final settlement for Kosovo, the top U.N. official in the province said Tuesday, calling on Kosovo Serbs to take an active part in shaping the province's future.

"The (ethnic Albanian) majority will have to understand they can't stabilize Kosovo if they don't recognize the right of the minority to be protected," Soren Jessen-Petersen said after meeting senior E.U. and NATO officials.

"In the status settlement there will be a provision for minority protection that can be monitored and verified" from outside, he said.

Jessen-Petersen said a federal government, based in Pristina, and a regional government for Kosovo's Serbs would be the best way to protect the rights of the Serb minority. He urged Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs to stop what he called " boycotting" the idea.

"There will be a limit to how much you can achieve in the area for the minorities if the minorities are not taking an active part in the process. As long as you continue the policy of boycott it's very difficult," he said.

Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown on independence-minded ethnic Albanian rebels.

The first round of negotiations between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbian officials on the province's future status was held Feb. 20-21 in Vienna and the dispute over its future is expected to be resolved by the end of 2006.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insists on full independence, while the Serbs want it to remain part of Serbia.

Western diplomats have said Kosovo's quest for independence is conditional on the province becoming a democracy that respects minority rights.

UN Mediator For Kosovo Meets With Serb Officials

(Updates an item timed at 1107 GMT with Serbia's prime minister reiterating his offer for Kosovo's autonomy; comment from Serbia's president; statement from Serbia-Montenegro foreign minister; comment on minority rights from top U.N. official in Kosovo.)

BELGRADE (AP)--The U.N. mediator for Kosovo met with Serbian officials Tuesday to discuss the future of the southern province, whose ethnic Albanian population wants independence.

Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president appointed by the U.N. to lead Kosovo talks, met with Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has warned that allowing secession of Kosovo would lead to a spiral of violence in the Balkans.

"A solution for the future status of the province must be an agreed one and in accordance with international law and European values," Kostunica said in a statement after the meeting. He also reiterated his government's offer for " substantial autonomy for Kosovo, within Serbia."

Kosovo's predominantly ethnic Albanian population, however, demand outright independence. Ahtisaari was to meet Wednesday with Kosovo Albanian leaders in Pristina.

The meetings are a follow-up to the first, and mostly inconclusive, round of internationally sponsored talks, held Feb. 20-21 in Vienna.

Kosovo has been an international protectorate since 1999, when NATO bombing ended a Serb crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists.

The U.N. envoy also met with Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic who also vows never to agree to secession of the province, which Serbs cherish as their historic heartland.

Tadic, however, told Ahtisaari he was ready to meet directly with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leader, Fatmir Sejdiu.

The U.N. envoy also discussed Kosovo with Serbia-Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic who proposed "all rights for the (ethnic) Albanian majority, with full protection of rights for Serb and other minorities" in the contested province.

The Serb population in Kosovo declined sharply after the 1999 change of authority.

"Our side is ready for a compromise but it must be respected that we have the same rights and dignity like all other states," Draskovic said after the meeting.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, the top U.N. official in the province, said in Brussels on Tuesday that minority rights would be guaranteed in any final settlement, and called on Kosovo Serbs to take an active part in shaping the province's future.

"The (ethnic Albanian) majority will have to understand they can't stabilize Kosovo if they don't recognize the right of the minority to be protected," Jessen-Petersen said after meeting senior E.U. and NATO officials.

Monday, February 27, 2006

EU gives Serbia a month to deliver Mladic

ark John and Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union told Serbia on Monday it had a month to deliver war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic to justice or risk seeing its long-term bid to join the bloc put on ice.

One of the top two war crimes suspects in the Balkans, Mladic has been a wanted man since 1995 and is said to have enjoyed high-level protection from renegade members of the military and intelligence services in Serbia.

"It is high time Serbia reached full cooperation with ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) that should lead to the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told a news conference.

"That is the way to avoid a disruption of negotiations, to avoid them being put on hold," Rehn said, noting complaints from ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte that Serbia's cooperation with her tribunal had been deteriorating over the past year.

Diplomats said a final statement by foreign ministers warned only that talks risked being "disrupted" rather than suspended so as not to encourage anti-EU figures in Belgrade who wanted just that outcome.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters the 25-nation EU would adopt a "go-slow" approach to future contacts with Belgrade, which could start with the cancellation of a next round of talks due on April 4-5.

"If Serbia continues to fail to cooperate, then it risks a total suspension of the talks," Straw said.

Del Ponte thanked the EU for sending what her spokeswoman called a clear message to Serbia: "If Mladic is not arrested Belgrade will have to face the consequences: the negotiations scheduled on April 5 will not take place, which means clearly that they will be suspended."


Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, in Brussels to meet his EU counterparts, was optimistic Mladic could be delivered.

"No explanations, no excuses for the fact that we are dramatically late in fulfilling our Hague obligations...I hope that we'll do that this time," he said, insisting nonetheless that his government did not know where Mladic was.

Indicted by the United Nations in 1995 for genocide in the massacre that year of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica and the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, Mladic went underground only in 2001.

Responding to a week of rampant media speculation that Mladic was under arrest or about to surrender, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said last week that the former Bosnian Serb army chief was still at-large but insisted that Serbia was "doing everything in its power" to bring him to justice.

The current talks between the EU and Serbia are the first rung on the ladder to eventual membership for Belgrade -- something which is far from certain given the cold feet about future waves of enlargement in many EU capitals.

The EU will in coming weeks increase pressure on Belgrade, with Draskovic due to meet his EU counterparts later on Monday and again in mid-March.

Del Ponte has urged the EU to suspend its discussions with Belgrade, saying that similar hardline tactics worked with Croatia. The arrest of leading war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina in December cleared the path for its EU accession talks after months of warnings and pressure.

Serbia faces genocide charge

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The International Court of Justice assembled for hearings Monday on a suit by Bosnia accusing Serbia of genocide, the first time an entire nation has faced trial for humanity's worst crime.

Although individual Bosnian Serbs have been convicted on genocide charges, the U.N.'s highest court will hear lawyers argue whether Serbia can be held responsible for the actions of its allies in the neighboring republic and its own leaders during Yugoslavia's brutal secessionist war in the early 1990s.

The stakes potentially include billions of dollars and history's judgment.

The session began with the swearing in of new judges by the court's newly elected president, British Justice Rosalyn Higgins, to the tribunal, also known as the world court. Higgins, 68, adjourned the meeting for a brief break after the judges took their oath.

The 16 judges, in black robes and white bibs, filed into their chairs behind a long raised table before an assembly of lawyers from the two nations and representatives of the diplomatic corps.

Oral arguments were being heard 13 years after Bosnia filed the lawsuit against Serbia-Montenegro -- the successor state for the defunct Yugoslavia -- charging it with a premeditated attempt to destroy Bosnia's Muslim population, in whole or part.

"Not since the end of the Second World War and the revelations of the horrors of Nazi Germany's 'Final Solution' has Europe witnessed the utter destruction of a people, for no other reason than they belong to a particular national ethnical, racial, and religious group as such," said the lawsuit's opening paragraph, drafted for the Bosnian government by American lawyer Francis A. Boyle.

It is one of the most complex and far-reaching rulings ever sought from the tribunal. Arguments are scheduled end May 9, and it likely will be a year before the judges deliver their verdict.

The case hinges on whether the court is persuaded that the Serbian state, and not just a group of individuals, had the specific intent to wipe out the Muslims of eastern Bosnia as a distinct community.

If the judges rule in Bosnia's favor, they would decide later whether to award financial reparations, which could total billions of dollars. The court's rulings are binding, and a refusal to abide by them could be referred to the U.N. Security Council for action.

Croatia, another republic that splintered from the crumbling Yugoslav federation, has a similar genocide case against Serbia pending at the world court.

Bosnian survivors started a vigil Monday outside the neo-Gothic Peace Palace where the court sits.

Bosnia submitted the lawsuit in March 1993, less than a year after Yugoslav-backed Serb paramilitary forces began attacking Muslim villages adjacent to Serbia. The Bosnians claim the Serbs intended to drive out the residents and create a Greater Serbia.

In a horrific roster of atrocities, the lawsuit cites case after case of the slaughter of civilians, mass rape, the systematic destruction of mosques and cultural heritage sites, and the creation of "extermination camps."

Within weeks, the court issued an interim order against "Yugoslavia and its agents and surrogates" to halt their campaign of "ethnic cleansing," including the murder, bombardment and starvation of the Muslims.

But worse was to come.

Two years after the documents were filed in The Hague, Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic massacred about 8,000 Muslims during one blood-soaked week in the U.N.-declared safe haven of Srebrenica.

A separate U.N. court in The Hague -- the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia -- already has ruled that genocide occurred at Srebrenica.

The Yugoslav tribunal convicted two Bosnian army officers of complicity or aiding genocide, and several other suspects struck plea bargains to evade genocide charges. It is currently trying former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mladic remains at large, branded one of the world's most-wanted fugitives. He is believed to be hiding in Serbia with protection from hard-liners in the Serb military and police -- loyalists of Milosevic.

In recent days, reports of Mladic's imminent capture circulated, but they have so far proven false. In Belgrade, the Blic daily newspaper said negotiations on his surrender were under way and that Mladic allegedly "refuses to make a deal" with authorities.

Bosnia faces a European Union deadline to surrender Mladic by Feb. 28 or have its membership talks with the bloc frozen. The EU's council of ministers scheduled a Monday meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to decide whether to punish Belgrade if Mladic is not captured.

"Serbia knows that negotiations may be suspended or may never be concluded if Belgrade fails to cooperate fully," chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said this week.

Genocide was not specifically outlawed until the 1948 Genocide Convention, prompted by the Holocaust.

The first genocide conviction came 50 years later, when a special U.N. court on Rwanda sentenced a former mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu, to life imprisonment for complicity in the deaths of thousands of Tutsis. The Rwanda court has handed down a score of convictions since then.

Unlike the Rwanda or Yugoslav tribunals, the International Court of Justice does not try individuals. It deals only with claims among U.N. member states, but rarely in claims of this scope. In its 60 years, it has most often has adjudicated border or maritime disputes.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Serbia and Montenegro on Trial for Genocide

Bosnian lawyers face the daunting task of proving not only that genocide occurred in Bosnia, but also that responsibility lay with an entire state.

By IWPR staff in The Hague (TU No 441, 24-Feb-06)

Bosnian lawyers launching a genocide case against Serbia and Montenegro at the International Court of Justice, ICJ, the first such state-level lawsuit, will face a formidable challenge when proceedings begin on Monday, February 27, IWPR has established in a far-reaching investigation into the case.

On the face of it, Sarajevo’s case appears strong, drawing as it does on many years’ worth of research into the atrocities that became the gruesome hallmark of the conflicts that ripped through the Balkans in the Nineties.

But this first ever attempt to prove something as problematic as state responsibility for a crime as complex as genocide is set to throw up a whole host of thorny legal issues.

Over a decade has passed since Sarajevo first registered its complaint against Belgrade at the Hague court, accusing what was then Yugoslavia of genocide against Bosnia’s non-Serb population.

Next week, the two sides’ legal teams will finally take their seats in the imposing wood-panelled expanse of the court’s Great Hall of Justice in order to launch the opening salvoes in a battle that could change the fragile political balance of the Balkans forever.

In the intervening period, the Sarajevo legal team has had access to a growing body of evidence generated by prosecutors working for another Hague-based United Nations court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

Prosecutors at the ICTY have established that at least one episode of the war in Bosnia — the slaughter by Serb troops of thousands of Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica in 1995 — constituted a genocide.

Two years’ worth of evidence against the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic at the same court has also thrown a great deal of new light on Belgrade’s links with this and other atrocities. The evidence that has emerged has satisfied judges that he does have a case to answer about genocide in Bosnia.

But for the Bosnian team, securing a ruling in Sarajevo’s favour at the ICJ will still be no mean feat.

Besides convincing a new court that the notoriously complex crime of genocide occurred in Bosnia, the Bosnian lawyers will also face the daunting task of showing that responsibility for it lay not just with a set of individuals but with an entire state.

This generates a multitude of intractable legal questions, not least surrounding the fact that the crime of genocide necessarily requires a particular mindset — namely the special intent to destroy a population — which, on the face of it at least, appears difficult to attribute to a state.

What is more, the way in which Belgrade is purported to have committed the crime — largely through covert support for proxies, in a war that its own military wasn’t officially involved in — makes the case infinitely more complex.

The case stands in stark contrast to many that have gone before it at the ICJ, which is usually better known for its role in arbitrating such weighty issues as border disputes and rows over maritime boundaries.

Its proceedings are also often technical and slow — though none so slow as this latest case, which has already spent some 13 years on the court’s docket — and devoid of even a modicum of drama.

Once the technicalities are out of the way this time, however — and there is still a chance that the suit will be dismissed on grounds of jurisdiction — the Great Hall of Justice will play host to testimony from a series of live witnesses. The court has so little experience of this practice that until recently, staff had no idea where they would even place them.

The stakes are also high. If the 17-judge panel at the World Court upholds Bosnia’s case, Serbia and Montenegro, as the successor state to Yugoslavia, could be faced with billions of dollars in reparations payments.

Even more seriously in many people’s eyes, it would also become the first country ever to receive the indelible black mark of a legal ruling declaring it an official sponsor of the crime of crimes.

If Bosnia’s case comes crashing to the ground, on the other hand, ecstatic celebrations in Belgrade will be matched by mass political recriminations in Sarajevo.

Ultimately, those on both sides hope that this showdown before the world’s highest civil court might at least answer once and for all one of the most central and intractable questions surrounding the break-up of Yugoslavia: to what extent was Belgrade responsible for the horrors that overwhelmed the people of Bosnia in the aftermath of that crisis?

IWPR has spoken with all the main players in the case — lawyers from both sides and the new president of the ICJ — and has sought comment from a host of academic and legal experts.

In this report, we explore in detail the Bosnian case and the Serbian response, analyse the legal issues involved, and discuss the likely consequences should either side win.


Bosnia and Hercegovina filed its case against the now defunct state of Yugoslavia on March 20, 1993, arguing that the latter had “planned, prepared, conspired, promoted, encouraged, aided and abetted and committed” genocide against its population.

Francis Boyle, the University of Illinois professor of law who instigated the legal proceedings on behalf of Bosnia, told IWPR that the aim was “to shake up the entire world, so they realised that genocide was going on in Bosnia although everyone was denying it”.

The suit cited specific alleged crimes including the murders of over 80 civilians by Serbian paramilitaries in the village of Zaklopaca, the deaths of dozens of Muslim inmates every day at the “Omarska extermination camp” and the destruction of non-Serb villages.

But Belgrade may not have breached only the UN genocide convention, it is also claimed that it may have reneged on its obligations under the Geneva conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other aspects of international law.

Those specifically to blame, said the Bosnian lawyers, were “public officials” and “constitutionally responsible rulers” of Yugoslavia, as well as “certain private individuals” who were controlled by them or cooperated with them.

Bosnia asked the court to order Belgrade to pay reparations for damages to persons, property and the environment, as well as to its economy.

When the case opens next week, the Sarajevo legal team will have seven days to lay out their evidence for the suit, before handing the floor to Serbia to reply. The 17 judges overseeing the proceedings will then hear from witnesses and experts.


Even with hearings getting under way, however, a number of issues remain outstanding which could stand in the way of the case being seen through to its natural conclusion.

One such potential obstacle is the question of whether the ICJ has the authority to hear the case.

In June 1995, the Belgrade team filed a response to Sarajevo’s suit, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over it. They claimed, among other things, that Yugoslavia had no involvement in Bosnia; that Bosnia was not party to the genocide convention; and that, even if it was, its accession would have occurred after the crimes in question, meaning that they couldn’t be the basis for a case.

In July the following year, judges at the ICJ threw out these objections and found that the court had jurisdiction to deal with the case. Serbia and Montenegro subsequently failed in an attempt to have the decision overturned.

But Serbian lawyers say the legal situation has since changed in such a way as to support fresh jurisdiction objections.

In 1999, Belgrade filed a separate case at the ICJ against a number of western states, accusing them of committing genocide during the bombing campaign launched by NATO in March that year to halt alleged ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Later, however, as Belgrade itself sought to edge towards NATO membership, its legal team scuppered their own case by arguing that the ICJ had no jurisdiction over it, since Yugoslavia had not been a member of the UN during the relevant period.

That case was thrown out unanimously in 2004. While the judges were split almost down the middle on the grounds on which they should reject Serbia’s suit, one vote tipped the balance in favour of the argument about Belgrade’s non-membership of the UN.

The new president of the court, Judge Rosalyn Higgins of the United Kingdom, was amongst those who disagreed with that argument, warning that the court may be creating a problem for itself in future cases — clearly casting ahead to the now imminent Bosnia case.

Pieter Bekker, an international lawyer who was working in the ICJ’s registry department when Bosnia launched proceedings against Belgrade and has since written for legal journals on the case, told IWPR that the court now faces a dilemma.

“Serbia is likely to make an argument that if [it] can’t sue NATO countries then the court should be consistent and rule after all that [it doesn’t] have standing to be a defendant in this genocide case,” he said.

“The court is in a bit of a predicament there,” he added.

Sakib Softic, an advisor for constitutional and legal affairs to the Bosnian presidency, dismisses such talk. “In 1996, the ICJ ruled that it has jurisdiction over this case and all the facts were known even then... Nothing has changed since then that would alter that decision,” he told IWPR.

Nottingham University law expert Dr Robert Cryer agrees. “In the past they got nowhere with that argument,” he told IWPR. “My guess is that [Serbia and Montenegro] will attempt to raise the matter again but it’s not going to get anywhere.”

The ICJ is in the enviable position of not having to follow any precedents set in previous rulings by its judges. Cryer, though, told IWPR that in practice “the court has a consistent policy of citing its own decisions and would only depart from a previous one in very rare circumstances”.

This was confirmed by President Higgins, who told IWPR, “We are extremely aware of our own prior judicial decision making and we certainly try to be consistent.”

Maintaining consistency between two such apparently opposed rulings on jurisdiction though may be one of the first tasks facing the ICJ’s new president.


Before the case has even come to court, the Sarajevo legal team have also been forced to deal with fierce resistance from the whole Balkans region, and even from within Bosnia itself.

Complaints have emerged from various quarters about the expense of the proceedings. In January this year, Professor Radoslav Stojanovic, who is representing the Serbian side at the forthcoming proceedings, told a daily newspaper from Republika Srpska, Nezavisne Nedjeljne Novine, that the cost of the lawsuit amounts to around three million euro.

“Why would we spend all this money on accusing one another, when it could be used for improving mutual understanding and compensation for the victims of the war?” he asked during the Nezavisne Nedjeljne Novine interview.

Softic has defended the cost, however, saying that the lawyers on the Bosnian side are charging lower fees than normal, content in the knowledge that they will be rewarded “through the professional reputation they’ll get for taking part in this case”.

“The whole case will cost less then two million euro, which is less then what [Vojislav] Seselj demands for his own defence,” he told IWPR, in reference to the notorious hard-line nationalist Serb politician on trial for war crimes at the ICTY.

In addition to such protests, Bosnian Serb politicians have been actively seeking ways to get the suit withdrawn. But it was originally launched on behalf of the state by Bosnia’s collective wartime presidency — which included, at least technically, representatives of the country’s Muslim, Croat and Serb populations — and it cannot be retracted without all three parties agreeing.

In a last ditch attempt to sink the case, the current Serb member of Bosnia’s collective presidency, Borislav Paravac, persuaded the country’s foreign minister — also a Serb — to send a letter to the ICJ, asking it to temporarily suspend the genocide proceedings until Bosnia’s constitutional court had ruled on whether the lawsuit was legal.

But the letter was due to be sent via Bosnia’s ambassador to the Netherlands — a Muslim — who refused to do it, insisting that the only person with authority to communicate directly with ICJ is Bosnia’s legal representative, Sakib Softic.

The next session of the constitutional court in Sarajevo is not until the end of March, too late to affect the start of the case, even if judges there decide that they have jurisdiction over the matter.

Softic told IWPR he was confident that the moves against the case from Bosnia’s Serb community would come to nothing. “Governments of any of the two entities of the Bosnian state can not in any way jeopardise the case, which has been initiated on the state level,” he said.


The suit against Serbia and Montenegro — as the successor state to Yugoslavia — will be the first case ever heard by the ICJ taking as its foundation the UN genocide convention, which was drafted in the wake of World War Two and entered into international law over fifty years ago.

According to the convention, genocide is defined as certain acts “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

But the ICJ won’t be the first court to hear such allegations.

The first judgement against an individual was handed down in Arusha at the Rwanda Tribunal in a case against a former mayor — Jean-Paul Akayesu — who was found guilty of genocide in 1998.

At the ICTY, judges have already determined that genocide occurred in Bosnia, when troops of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, executed thousands of Muslim men and boys captured after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995. VRS commanders Radislav Krstic and Vidoje Blagojevic have since been given prison terms for their roles in the crime of genocide during that episode.

Many senior Serbs have also been indicted by the ICTY for genocide elsewhere in Bosnia — as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to drive Muslims and Croats from huge swathes of the country earmarked for a future Serb state — though none have yet been convicted on such charges.

There is little doubt by now that the Bosnian war — in which, according to the latest figures, around a 100,000 people lost their lives — was a vicious and brutal conflict.

“That the crimes were committed isn’t going to be debated, those days are long gone,” Mark Ellis, a Balkan expert and director of the International Bar Association, told IWPR.

The challenge for the Bosnian lawyers appearing before the ICJ, however, is to secure a ruling from that court that the crimes amounted to genocide, and to provide evidence for longstanding allegations that Belgrade funded and otherwise supported the Bosnian Serb military and paramilitary units responsible.

In some ways, establishing these facts in civil proceedings at the ICJ might be easier than it would be before many other courts. The degree of certainty which judges at the ICJ are typically required to feel in order to come down on one side of any given case is lower than what is required at institutions, such as the ICTY, which deal with questions of individual criminal responsibility.

“The ICJ can decide to convict on the balance of probabilities, rather than beyond all reasonable doubt,” explained Cambridge University international law expert Roger O’Keefe.

ICJ president Higgins told IWPR, however, that the case in hand presents a particular challenge in this respect. “You’re in an overlap area where you’ve got something like genocide, where it is a crime under international law,” she said, adding that the judges were in the process of considering the “difficult questions” thrown up by this blurring of boundaries between criminal and civil law.


Bosnian representatives told IWPR that they were confident they would be able to establish Belgrade’s culpability.

“I personally have no doubts about the positive outcome of the lawsuit against Serbia and Montenegro, and I believe that documents we have at our disposal are sufficient,” said Softic.

Francis Boyle — who is no longer a member of the Bosnian team — added that, given the strength of the evidence, the case had been “won already”.

A number of independent legal experts told IWPR that it was also their belief that the Bosnia case had a good chance of success.

Ellis told IWPR that Serbia would face “an uphill battle on this”, and Cryer expressed a similar view, pointing out that the ICTY’s findings that genocide occurred in Bosnia would be very useful to the Bosnian case.

The Bosnian team will be calling a number of witnesses to shore up its case, including British general Richard Dannatt, who served in Bosnia with the UN Protection Force, UNPROFOR. Dannatt is apparently set to speak about the role played in Bosnia by the Yugoslav military, including its active support of the VRS.

Also due to testify is Andras Riedlmayer, a Harvard expert in Islamic art and architecture, who will give evidence about the destruction of cultural and religious buildings and monuments in Bosnia.

Meanwhile, United States historian Robert Donia will describe the history of the Bosnian war.

Besides witness testimony, Softic told IWPR that documents will also make up a significant part of Bosnia’s case at the ICJ.

Members of the Bosnian legal team have said in the past that they intend to draw much of the documentary evidence for their case from what has gone before at the ICTY.

The ICTY’s dealings with the Srebrenica massacre — already established by that court as an instance of genocide — will most likely form a key part of their case.

Even though the Srebrenica atrocity occurred in 1995, two years after Bosnia first filed its suit, Bekker said evidence relating to that crime would still be admissible.

“The court is likely to look at the whole of the Bosnian war… Bosnia can argue that Srebrenica was a continuing violation of international law,” he told IWPR.

Dr Rachel Kerr, from the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, told IWPR that there is reason to think that far from just being relevant to the case, Srebrenica will in fact be of special interest to the Bosnian team.

Witness testimony from the enclave clearly showing that men and boys were separated and executed on the grounds of their ethnicity helps to show quite unambiguously that what happened there really was genocide, she explained.

It could be “very difficult”, she added, for Sarajevo lawyers to prove that murders elsewhere in Bosnia were carried out with such clear genocidal intent.

In the course of a decade of work by the ICTY, numerous pieces of evidence have emerged which suggest the existence of relatively direct links between the Srebrenica massacre and the Milosevic regime in Belgrade.

Evidence presented at the trial of Milosevic himself includes a written order for units which included operatives of the Serbian interior ministry to take part in fighting in the Srebrenica area around the time of the massacre.

Last June, further evidence of the alleged link became public in a brutally graphic manner, first in the Milosevic trial courtroom and later on television screens across the world, in the form of a video apparently showing the executions of a number of Srebrenica prisoners.

Those carrying out the murders were apparently members of a paramilitary group known as the Scorpions, who prosecutors say were responsible to Belgrade in the early Nineties. Since the video was first shown, one former Scorpions member has been convicted of the murders by a court in Zagreb. A further five have gone on trial in Serbia.

Material has also emerged in proceedings against Milosevic and others at the ICTY which backs up prosecutors’ claims of much broader financial and logistical support provided to Bosnian Serb forces. This could be employed by the Sarajevo lawyers to try to show that Belgrade was responsible for genocide elsewhere in the country.

Included in the mountains of documentation which help to make up the case against Milosevic are records of wartime meetings of the Bosnian Serb assembly. In one, from May 1994, Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic declared, “Without Serbia nothing would have happened. We don’t have the resources and would not have been able to make war.”

Elsewhere, Milosevic himself is recorded as telling the assembled politicians, “Do not tell us that you feel abandoned…. We shall continue to help you.”

In fact, when prosecutors wrapped up their two-year case against Milosevic in February 2004, the judges overseeing the trial said they had heard enough prima facie evidence to convict him of genocide in Bosnia. Now in the defence stage of his trial, Milosevic is in the process of trying to counter this evidence.

But a crucial bulk of evidence which may have helped the chamber come to this conclusion appears destined to remain out of reach of the lawyers representing Bosnia at the ICJ.

The documents in question, records of meetings of the Supreme Defence Counsel, SDC, a top decision-making body in Yugoslavia, were used extensively in the Milosevic trial to flesh out allegations that Belgrade supported Serb fighters in Bosnia.

Former Yugoslav president Zoran Lilic has testified in the trial that the SDC decided in 1993 to formalise support for officers of the Bosnian Serb military by establishing a body within the Yugoslav army called the 30th personnel centre.

Elsewhere, portions of the SDC records which have been made public suggest that Belgrade was paying the salaries of VRS officers as late as 1998, long after the war in Bosnia reached its bloody end.

As part of a deal brokered between ICTY prosecutors and Belgrade, however, the bulk of these documents remain under seal at the court. During an IWPR investigation into this matter last year, a Serbian official said that a major concern was that this evidence might influence the ICJ case.

Softic acknowledged to IWPR that “the [SDC] documents are very important and they would be very useful in our case”. But since ICJ judges only have access to material provided by the two sides, they seem likely to remain out of reach.


Despite the wealth of evidence available to the Bosnian lawyers and their very public confidence that they will win the case, the Belgrade legal team is equally confident and determined to fight its corner to the last.

Stojanovic told IWPR that a key part of the defence case will focus on the issue of the intent which is a part of the very definition of genocide. “Genocide has to [include] the intent to destroy a people, in whole or in part,” he explained. “The intent doesn’t exist in the Serbian case.”

“There are of course maybe individuals who had the intent,” he acknowledged, “but in the ICJ we're talking about the responsibility of the state.”

It seems clear that attempting to prove that Yugoslavia, at a state level, intended to destroy at least part of the non-Serb population in Bosnia will be a challenge for the Sarajevo lawyers.

But legal observers have told IWPR that it is in fact possible to establish state responsibility for a crime like genocide precisely by looking at the actions and mindsets of senior officials, irrespective of whether these were supported or even known about by the population as a whole.

“People are represented by their government,” said Judith Armatta of the Coalition for International Justice, CIJ, adding, “When the state commits a wrong — through those exercising state power, the state is liable whether or not its population approved.”

This principle is supported by the UN International Law Commission, a body responsible for developing international law. One of its draft statutes states that the conduct of a person or group of persons can be considered to have been carried out by a state as long as, in acting, they are exercising “elements of governmental authority”.

As a result, Gerry Simpson, from the International Law Department at the London School of Economics, told IWPR that in the Bosnian case “there will be a — possibly fictitious — representation of [the Yugoslav political elite] as acting on behalf of the whole state”.

Simpson went on to explain that there are two established methods of seeking to show that a state acted on the basis of genocidal intent — arguably a critical element if the state is to be found responsible for committing the crime of genocide.

The first is called “Nuremberg method”, in reference to its widespread use in the war crimes trials that followed World War Two. It involves first showing that actions have been carried out on the ground with the clear intent to destroy, at least in part, a particular population. After that, a chain of command is established linking these crimes directly and explicitly to the leadership of the state in question.

The alternative to this method, which has been favoured at the ICTY, is often used when there is little clear evidence of a chain of command between events on the ground and the state that is said to be responsible for them.

Under this approach, says Simpson, less emphasis is placed on painstakingly illustrating links between the leadership and events on the ground, while more effort goes into showing how much the events look like the natural consequences of the stated policies of the authorities in question.

For instance, at the ICTY, prosecutors of Serb leaders have often sought to show that the Serb nationalist ideal of creating a “new Serb-dominated state” necessarily involved the displacement of the non-Serb populations in large swathes of Bosnia and Croatia. Evidence of attacks by Serbs on the ground can therefore be related back to this clearly-documented political intention.

However, genocide expert Professor William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland in Galway, warned IWPR that such “displacement” may show intent for ethnic cleansing, but not necessarily for genocide.

“The core debate is about how broadly genocidal intent is interpreted,” he said.

Schabas’ contention is that the only ICTY case where genocide has been proven is the Krstic case, and even here, the judges’ decision emphasises the fact that there was not a universal genocidal intent inherent among the Serb leadership. Rather, the judgment states that the genocidal intent crystallised only a few days before the Srebrenica massacre.

“Srebrenica was one manifestation of a general policy, but from my reading of the Krstic decision, it was more the exception than the rule,” said Schabas.

The Serbian side may therefore argue that there is a lack of evidence that senior Yugoslav officials, even as individuals, had special genocidal intent to destroy a particular part of the Bosnia’s population at all.

Indeed, during the whole of the prosecution case against Milosevic, little clear evidence arose in public to suggest that he himself had this specific kind of genocidal intent.

Professor Vojin Dimitrijevic, the director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, told IWPR that there are even suggestions that Milosevic had no idea in advance of what would happen at Srebrenica, pointing to reports that Milosevic was angry with Mladic in the period that followed.

Even this kind of approach, however, could be undermined by a legal ruling by judges in the Milosevic trial suggesting that an individual, at least, does not need to have genocidal intent in order to commit genocide.

The judges in that case appeared to argue that it is enough for a person to be convicted of genocide if they create a situation where genocide could occur, continue to assist those who are intent on committing it and do nothing to prevent it from happening despite it being within their power to do so.

It is also important to note that under the UN genocide convention which Bosnia accuses Serbia and Montenegro of having broken, the various ways of commiting genocide include complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and incitement to commit genocide.

Armatta told IWPR that jurisprudence laid down so far in relation to genocide is inconclusive as to whether genocidal intent is a necessary element in these crimes. One decision issued by the judges overseeing the Milosevic trial, she said, suggests that it is not.

“One can take the philosophical position that only the small number of conspirators who planned and set the genocide in motion should be held responsible for such a heinous crime. Or one can take the position that genocide could never occur without broad involvement; therefore, those who knowingly participate should also be held responsible for the crime of crimes,” explained Armatta.

When considering such matters, one must obviously bear in mind the flexibility that judges at the ICJ enjoy when it comes to deciding whether to follow legal precedents. Armatta added, “It will be interesting to see how the ICJ approaches it.”

The complex problems surrounding the questions of genocidal intent and state responsibility are not the only defence available to the Belgrade lawyers in their efforts to fend off the Bosnian genocide charges.

Another key factor in the defence case, Dimitrijevic told IWPR, will be a ruling made by the ICJ in 1986, as part of a case in which Nicaragua sued the US for supporting the Contra insurgency against the Sandinista authorities.

The court found in favour of Nicaragua, ruling that Washington had in fact contravened its treaty obligations by “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying” military and paramilitary activities in the country.

But, crucially, the judges went on to say that this was still not enough for the US to be held directly responsible for acts committed by the Contras.

Dimitrijevic told IWPR that the standards set by this ruling could prove to be an important consideration for judges determining whether Belgrade’s involvement in Bosnia made it directly responsible for genocide there.

Even if particular episodes of genocide were shown to have occurred, he said, “you have to prove that the Yugoslav government not only paid the salaries [of those responsible] but that they also controlled the operation [in question]”.

Cryer agreed that the Nicaragua case set a “very high threshold” for the evidence required to prove that a state was directly responsible for the actions of another party, so much so that the ruling has been criticised by legal observers.

Significantly, these critics have included judges on the appeals chamber at the ICTY who, during proceedings against the Bosnian Serb Dusko Tadic, said the so-called “Nicaragua test” seemed inconsistent with international law and state practice.

Only a few months ago, the ICJ ruled that Uganda violated international law by giving military and financial support to armed groups operating in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As part of their efforts to flesh out their case, the Belgrade side will also call a number of witnesses to give evidence in person over a period of five days.

They will include Zoran Lilic, Milosevic’s predecessor as Yugoslav president; retired Yugoslav army general Aleksandar Dimitrijevic; television journalist Lazar Lalic; and former Serbian interior minister Dusan Mihajlovic.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the list also includes Bosnia’s human rights ombudsman Vitomir Popovic and the former commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, General Michael Rose.


According to the court schedule, proceedings will end on May 9, 2006. At that stage, it can typically take about a further six months for judges at the ICJ to issue a judgement.

After that the judges will take soundings to try to settle on a majority view. The discussions are guided by the president in the judges’ deliberation room. The most junior judges, seated at the ends of a horseshoe-shaped table, are encouraged to give their opinions first, before their senior colleagues, seated nearer to the president, offer theirs.

The panel of judges will be 17 strong, with each side having the right to appoint their own ad hoc judge to the 15 already on the bench. The Serbian judge, Milenko Kreca, has been on every one of the recent Serbia cases. Meanwhile, the Bosnians have selected Ahmed Mahiou, a Frenchman of Algerian origin.

The role of the ad hoc judges is to represent each side during the deliberation process, and ensure that the final judgment is informed with local knowledge and full explanation of each state’s point of view.

ICJ president Higgins is particularly keen to maintain the court’s tradition that the judges write “every word” of any given decision themselves, despite the fact that this can be a time-consuming process.

“If we get a ruling before the end of the year that will be a quick result,” Bekker told IWPR.

Whatever decision the court takes, there will then be no room for the parties to object. By signing the ICJ’s charter, UN member states automatically agree to take the court’s first-instance judgements as being binding, final and without appeal.


If the court finds against Serbia and Montenegro, the judges could just provide a moral condemnation of wrongs which they consider to have been committed. Alternatively, they could order Belgrade to pay reparations to Sarajevo.

Paying “blood” money to the Bosnians is anathema to the majority of the Serbian public. “It is a ton of money at stake,” Edgar Chen, of the CIJ, told IWPR. “Something they fear is that the economy could be damaged if an award is made against them.”

If successful, however, what exactly the Bosnians would ask for remains unclear. In the event of reparations being ordered, the Sarajevo team may return to the court to request a separate procedure by which reparations would be calculated.

At the end of last year, the ICJ ruled that Uganda would have to compensate the Democratic Republic of Congo for invading and supporting armed groups on the latter’s territory. But no settlement has yet been reached in that case.

The only time the court itself has set an amount for reparations was in its very first case, all of 60 years ago, in which Albania was found responsible for damage to British navy ships and the deaths of sailors caused by mines in Albanian waters.

Once compensation has been ordered, the obligation to pay it is backed up by the threat of referral to the Security Council.

After the ICJ found against the US in the Nicaragua proceedings and told it to pay reparations, Washington — a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council — was able simply to ignore the order. Serbia and Montenegro would not have that option, nor could they rely on such support at the UN.

“It would be hard for any state to veto a resolution saying ‘Serbia who has been found responsible for genocide and must pay this compensation’,” said Cryer, although he added that he found it hard to imagine the Security Council slapping Belgrade with sanctions over the matter.

If Belgrade is asked to pay a large sum in recompense to Bosnia, Param-Preet Singh, of Human Rights Watch’s international justice programme, told IWPR that this might well encourage other post-conflict states to follow suit and sue for genocide and war crimes.

The implications of such a settlement would go even wider: Croatia is also suing Belgrade at the ICJ for committing genocide on Croatian territory in the early Nineties. It has set its claim at 29 billion dollars — more than Zagreb’s total external debt.

The prospect of reparations have also helped to spark debate in human rights circles as to whether cases like this — in which the state of Serbia and Montenegro itself stands charged with genocide and the population as a whole might have to shoulder compensation payments — could reinforce perceptions of collective guilt.

It has long been one of the ICTY’s stated aims to battle such perceptions by finding and punishing the actual individuals responsible for atrocities.

“Some would argue that it is not beneficial in the long run to be moving in a direction that talks about collective responsibility versus individual responsibility,” said Ellis.

But he added that while he understood where that opinion stemmed from, he didn’t subscribe to it himself. “I feel that any legal process that allows the truth to be brought out [and] allows assessment to be made by an independent court or arbitrator is a healthy thing to do,” he said.

Param-Preet Singh told IWPR that her organisation, HRW, also considers that generally “this kind of mechanism is a good thing”, though she added, “We are mindful that the ICJ could be abused, and we believe this is something to monitor.”


A debate is also raging about the possible political consequences if the ICJ judges rule in Bosnia’s favour.

“Once the judgment comes, Serbia and Montenegro will be the polecat of Europe for the rest of time,” Boyle told IWPR. “They will have to play a part in rebuilding Bosnia if they are going to establish themselves again in Europe.”

Ellis agreed that such a judgement would be an enormous stigma for Belgrade.

“You certainly don’t want to be tainted in history as being [responsible for] state-sponsored genocide,” he told IWPR. “That is an indictment that any country wants to avoid, certainly a country trying to emerge from the wreckage of the Yugoslav wars and join back into the international community.”

Higgins, who has a strong reputation as one who can balance legal argument with a well-grounded pragmatism, told IWPR that solely political concerns could not be allowed to sway the ICJ’s legal reasoning.

“What I think the court must never do is to say we know ‘x’ is the right legal answer, but we mustn’t give it because there might be negative political implications if we did,” she said

At the same time, however, many observers think the proceedings could in fact have positive consequences for regional relations in the long-term, by forcing people in the Balkans to look history in the face.

“In Serbia, people want to move on without addressing the past,” said Chen, of the CIJ. “Things like European Union membership and the economy are done at the expense of coming to terms with involvement in the war.”

Ellis said he believed he was already witnessing “a fundamental shift in the minds of Serbs in Belgrade” towards recognising the realities of what happened during the wars of the early Nineties, influenced by trials at the ICTY and especially by war crimes proceedings launched locally, in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia.

“That to me is much more important than whatever was going to happen in the ICJ,” he said.

But others think that the ICJ case itself can and should form an integral part of the same process.

“Only a judgment in Bosnia’s favour can really help build a friendly relationship between our two nations,” Softic told IWPR. “Only when the full truth about the past is uncovered can we start working on our future.”

Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, expressed a similar viewpoint in a posting on the Bosnia Institute website in October last year, “It is only by deconstructing and demystifying the Serbian project in relation to Bosnia and Hercegovina that the region can achieve stability and peace.”

“Serbia has to come to terms with this part of its past and finally close this chapter,” agreed Mirsad Tokaca, whose Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre is drawing up a tally of those killed during the Bosnian war. “We can build our future only when this issue is settled.”

“Nothing would improve good neighbourly relations between our two states better than establishing the fact that Milosevic's regime was responsible for the genocide in Bosnia, not Serbia's citizens,” Tokaca added.

Others hope that a ruling in Bosnia’s favour could even have welcome, concrete consequences for the wider world for a long time to come.

“Once the court says the genocide did take place in Bosnia, we will have some guarantee that it won’t happen again,” Softic told IWPR. “At least, the chances for history to repeat itself will be much smaller.”

This report was compiled by Janet Anderson, IWPR’s International Justice Programme Director; Mike Farquhar, a London-based contributor to IWPR’s tribunal output; and Helen Warrell, an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Lisa Clifford, a journalist based in London, and Merdijana Sadovic, a regular contributor to IWPR’s tribunal project, also provided material for this report.
Also in this Issue

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A milestone on Kosovo's road to independence -The Economist

Talks on the future of Kosovo began on Monday February 20th in Vienna. They are almost certain to lead to its independence. If that happens, Serbia may declare its former province "occupied territory"—a move that would probably end its bids to join NATO and the European Union

Get article background

FOR months, diplomats who deal with the issue of Kosovo have been suggesting, first in a circumspect way, recently more openly, that the talks beginning on Monday February 20th on the future of the province will lead to its independence. Their thinking was that with a little gentle persuasion, Serbia's leaders could begin to prepare their public of the final loss of their southern slab of land, which has been under the jurisdiction of the United Nations since NATO forces drove out Serbian ones in 1999. Finally, says a source close to the talks process, “the message is sinking in.”

However, things are not quite that straightforward. While Kosovo-watchers had hoped that Serbia's leaders would blame the loss of Kosovo on the policies of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic—who was tossed from power in 2000—and extreme nationalist parties such as the Serbian Radical Party, this is not happening. Indeed, the Radicals now seem to be setting the agenda for debate in Serbia.

More than 90% of Kosovo's 2m people are ethnic Albanians who have long demanded independence. In the wake of the Kosovo war, tens of thousands of Serbs and Roma fled Kosovo, which remains technically a part of Serbia. The 100,000 or so Serbs who remain live either in the north, in an area adjacent to Serbia proper, or in enclaves scattered across the province. It is they, above all, who fear for their future.

In November the UN appointed Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, to preside over talks on Kosovo’s future. Meeting in London at the end of January, the Contact Group, which represents the major powers that deal with the former Yugoslavia, issued a statement which, reading between the lines, made clear they had decided Kosovo would be independent but that strong safeguards needed to be put in place to protect its Serbs. Emissaries were then sent to the region to explain this.

Serbia's leaders responded angrily. The leader of the Radical Party said that he and Serbia's premier, Vojislav Kostunica, had decided that if Kosovo became independent against Serbia's wishes it should be declared “occupied territory”.

Under the terms of any settlement, NATO troops would remain in Kosovo. The European Union is also planning to play a big role. Thus, if Kosovo is “occupied territory”, they would presumably count as occupying powers, and it would thus no longer be realistic for Serbia to continue talks on joining both organisations. This would mean that Serbia, which has slowly been clawing its way back after years in isolation, would once more become the embittered pariah of Europe.

Only a few political heavyweights in Serbia, such as former foreign minister Goran Svilanovic, have dared to say that Kosovo will become independent at the end of the process that is beginning this week. For that he has been vilified as a traitor in parts of the press. More common have been reactions such as that of Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to the Serbian premier: “The Kosovo Albanians have to be aware that they will not receive independence from Serbia and that Serbia will retain the right to take back everything which it lost in an illegal manner.”

Such talk has been greeted with dismay by many in Serbia who think its leadership has not presented Serbs with all the options. Daniel Sunter, head of the Euro-Atlantic Initiative, a Belgrade think-tank, says there has been no serious debate in Serbia about what its people could expect if Kosovo was not given independence. Quite apart from the demographic issues that come with trying to live in peace with a young, growing and hostile Albanian population, Mr Sunter suggests that “it would take 500,000 [Serbian] soldiers to keep [Kosovo] under control.” Kosovo Albanians have consistently said that any renewal of the link to Belgrade would lead to a new war.

In the past, diplomats have predicted that Kosovo would gain some sort of “conditional independence”. In fact it is likely to have more freedom than this, and now the diplomats talk of “sovereignty with limitations” or “monitored independence”. NATO troops will remain behind, Kosovo may have a “gendarmerie” rather than an army (for the moment), and it may not get a seat at the UN immediately.

With independence in sight, Kosovo Albanian leaders are beginning to think of the future. The province is small and crowded, its resources are limited, unemployment is high and it suffers from a chronic energy shortage. The World Bank says that Kosovo needs some $1.2 billion of investment—substantially more than its entire annual budget—in a new power plant and coal mine alone. For Kosovo, a huge amount of work is needed, and many will see this week as the point at which it begins in earnest.

Kosovo Parties Report Positive Results from First Round of Talks

ext talks scheduled for March 17; State's DiCarlo discusses restructured KFOR

By Vince Crawley
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Delegations from Serbia and from Kosovo’s Albanian majority reported generally positive results from their first round of direct negotiations February 21-22 in Vienna, Austria, to settle the future status of the internationally administered province.

U.S. diplomat Rosemary DiCarlo said February 22 in Washington that the United States does not have a formal position on whether Kosovo should be granted independence or retain its current status as an autonomous province of Serbia. “We feel, though, that we must resolve Kosovo’s status in a way that solidifies democratic development in Serbia and Montenegro,” she said.

In Vienna, Kosovo’s former warring parties found “common ground” in discussing how basic services would be administered at the local level to reflect the ethnic makeup of local populations, U.N. officials said.

“The kind of matters we discussed are not earth-shattering matters in the political sense, but they are extremely important for the people concerned,” said Albert Rohan, chairman of the talks and deputy special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general.

Delegates exchanged views on municipal concerns such as health care, education, culture, social welfare and police and justice -- issues that will have to be addressed in any resolution on Kosovo’s future status, said Rohan in a press release from the U.N. news service.

Both parties have agreed to meet again on March 17 to discuss local finance, cooperation between municipalities within Kosovo and between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.


The difficult negotiations originally were known as “final-status talks,” but diplomats recently have begun calling them “future-status talks.” (See related article.)

The U.N.-sponsored talks are aimed at deciding whether Kosovo will become independent or retain its recent status as an autonomous province of Serbia. Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when U.S. and NATO-led military forces fought and expelled Yugoslav Serb troops and police following widespread human-right abuses. At the time, about 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million residents were ethnic Albanians. Following the 1999 war, as many as half the province’s ethnic Serbs fled in the wake of violent reprisals by ethnic Albanians. Today, NATO forces protect minority-Serb communities and religious sites.

U.S. and international diplomats want 2006 to be a key year for Kosovo and the greater southeastern Europe region. “We think it’s a year of decision and change, and it’s an opportunity to finish the job that we began in the ‘90s,” said DiCarlo, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Speaking at a discussion hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, she said Kosovo’s uncertain international status no longer is promoting regional stability.

“We do not think that time is a friend to us in this process,” she said. Members of the informal Contact Group – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia – have “determined that the status quo really satisfies no one,” DiCarlo said. “It only leaves open the possibility for increased violence.”

Kosovo’s unclear international status also has thwarted economic development for the entire region, U.S. officials say.

Serbia seeks a solution that protects the rights of those Serbs still in Kosovo, said Ivan Vujacic, Serbian ambassador to the United States, who also spoke at the Wilson Center conference. He said a key Contact Group goal – multiethnicity within Kosovo – no longer exists because most Kosovar Serbs have fled urban areas and have settled in ethnically isolated rural enclaves.

“We are grateful for the International community being there,” Vujacic said. “If it wasn’t for the international community, no Serbs would be there.” About 150 Serb churches and monasteries are under the protection of international troops, he said.

DiCarlo said Kosovo’s status is “the most difficult remaining issue” in the region of the former Yugoslavia, which violently broke apart in the 1990s. However, she added, “we cannot resolve Kosovo’s status without devoting increased attention to other countries in the region.”

The Contact Group, which was established in 1994 to coordinate international policy on Kosovo, strongly encourages the parties to reach a negotiated solution, rather than having a solution imposed by the international community, DiCarlo said.

“Our priority is in a negotiated solution,” she said.


Responding to a question from the audience, DiCarlo also discussed the potential Kosovo troop reductions alluded to by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a February 3 interview with the Financial Times. Rumsfeld said the U.S. military remains strongly committed to Kosovo but that he is “personally hoping” for an eventual reduction in U.S. troop levels.

DiCarlo told the February 22 briefing that the international Kosovo Force (KFOR) of 16,000 troops – including about 1,700 U.S. troops -- is being restructured.

“The restructuring will allow for a task-force structure, which means that troops are going to be very movable,” she said.

In the past, KFOR troops were organized to patrol specific sectors. However, KFOR came under close scrutiny when troops were in many cases slow to respond to ethnic riots in March 2004. U.S. General James Jones, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, since has restructured KFOR to include new rules of engagement that allow forces to be redeployed quickly within Kosovo without first seeking approval from their home countries.

The new task-force structure “will make the force actually much more effective,” DiCarlo said. “While there may be some reductions in KFOR over the coming years, the kinds of people who are going to be reduced are not the combat-capable forces, but those who run the commissaries, the PXs, etcetera,” she said.

For more on U.S. policy in the region, see Balkans.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Kosovo to become independent this year (UN deputy envoy)

(Prishtina, DTT-NET.COM)- A US diplomat from the UN mission (UNMIK) believes that Kosovo will most probably become independent by the end of the year and urged local leadership to prepare for hard work for better economic development.

“I think 2006 is going to be a year in which in likelyhood Kosovo is going to become independent, "Lawrence Rossin the deputy head of the UNMIK said on Wednesday, in a press conference prior to his departure from Kosovo.

But he urged Kosovo leadership to prepare for difficult challenges following the status resolution especially in economic front.

However he said that current deep economic problems are possible to overcome as once the status is resolved Kosovo will have access to funds of international financial institutions such is World Bank.

Rossin, a former adviser on South-East Europe at Bill Clinton’s administration has been working as deputy-chief of UNMIK since 2004. After the war ended in 1999 Rosin was the Head of the US Liaison Office in Kosovo.

Rosin is to leave his Kosovo job and will continue to work for UN mission in Haiti.

Finally, final status Kosovo must soon secure conditional independence.

The international community is finally summoning up the courage to try to settle the Kosovo question - the last big unsolved issue left by the violent collapse of Yugoslavia.

Not before time. While there are risks in pressing for a settlement, it is more dangerous for Kosovo to remain as it is - a United Nations protectorate with its future blighted by uncertainty, unemployment and rampant crime.

The Kosovo Contact Group, consisting of the US, European Union states and Russia, was right after the 1999 war to freeze talk of Kosovo's final status, given the danger of provoking renewed fighting between the ethnic Albanian majority, which wants independence, and the Serb minority which claims Kosovo remains part of Serbia.

But now conditions in the former Yugoslavia are improving. Slovenia has joined the EU, Croatia has started entry talks, Macedonia is a recognised accession candidate, and Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro have started association agreement talks. Meanwhile Slobodan Milosevic, ex-Yugoslav president, and other alleged war criminals are in custody, although Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still free. And the economy is recovering from the wars of the 1990s.

With unemployment, crime and corruption rife, the environment is not perfect. Serbia is in a particularly hard position: as well as the prospect of losing Kosovo, it faces a likely complete break with Montenegro, the last ex-Yugoslav republic linked to Belgrade.

But there may never be a better time to act on Kosovo. And, with the US and its allies embroiled in the Middle East, western diplomats badly need a settlement in the Balkans to show intervention can end in success.

The plan is for ethnic Albanians and Serbs to negotiate a settlement. But these talks will very likely break down as Belgrade refuses to accept independence and ethnic Albanians, who compose over 90 per cent of the population, want nothing less.

The Contact Group must then be ready to impose conditional independence as anything less would perpetuate instability and risk an ethnic Albanian backlash. In return, the ethnic Albanians must be pressed to grant the local Serbs constitutional safeguards.

A settlement can be imposed only if Russia co-operates. Moscow has voiced concern about the precedent independence might set for troubled zones of the former Soviet Union. But Russia must be persuaded that UN-sanctioned conditional independence would be a less frightening precedent than an ethnic Albanian uprising.

Whatever the final deal, international troops and administrators must remain in Kosovo for years to come. The EU must continue to support the region with aid and stick by promises of future EU membership. Nothing will help the region to break with the past and focus on the future more than the prospect of EU integration.

The international community is finally summoning up the courage to try to settle the Kosovo question - the last big unsolved issue left by the violent collapse of Yugoslavia.

Not before time. While there are risks in pressing for a settlement, it is more dangerous for Kosovo to remain as it is - a United Nations protectorate with its future blighted by uncertainty, unemployment and rampant crime.

The Kosovo Contact Group, consisting of the US, European Union states and Russia, was right after the 1999 war to freeze talk of Kosovo's final status, given the danger of provoking renewed fighting between the ethnic Albanian majority, which wants independence, and the Serb minority which claims Kosovo remains part of Serbia.

But now conditions in the former Yugoslavia are improving. Slovenia has joined the EU, Croatia has started entry talks, Macedonia is a recognised accession candidate, and Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro have started association agreement talks. Meanwhile, ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and other alleged war criminals are in custody, although Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still free. And the economy is recovering from the wars of the 1990s.

With unemployment, crime and corruption rife, the enviroment is not perfect. Serbia is in a particularly hard position: as well as the prospect of losing Kosovo, it faces a likely complete break with Montenegro, the last ex-Yugoslav republic linked to Belgrade.

But there may never be a better time to act on Kosovo. And, with the US and its allies embroiled in the Middle East, western diplomats badly need a settlement in the Balkans to show intervention can end in success.

The plan is for ethnic Albanians and Serbs to negotiate a settlement. But, these talks will very likely break down as Belgrade refuses to accept independence and ethnic Albanians, who compose over 90 per cent of the population, want nothing less.

The Contact Group must then be ready to impose conditional independence as anything less would perpetuate instability and risk an ethnic Albanian backlash. In return, the ethnic Albanians must be pressed to grant the local Serbs constitutional safeguards.

A settlement can be imposed only if Russia cooperates. Moscow has voiced concern about the precedent independence might set for troubled zones of the former Soviet Union. But Russia must be persuaded that UN-sanctioned conditional independence would be a less frightening precedent than an ethnic Albanian uprising.

Whatever the final deal, international troops and administrators must remain in Kosovo for years to come. The EU must continue to support the region with aid and stick by promises of future EU membership. Nothing will help the region to break with the past and focus on the future more than the prospect of EU integration.

Belgrade must be ready for possible Kosovo independence - Serbian paper

Text of unattributed commentary entitled: "Shadow of Rambouillet", published by the Serbian newspaper Danas on 21 February

When a country is in a situation where it has to discuss the status of part of its territory, that in itself constitutes a kind of defeat - the defeat of a policy that over a protracted period of time was unable to deal with internal problems in a rational way and ensure the functioning of the community. This is what has happened to Serbia in the case of Kosovo.

Not so long ago, Belgrade held all instruments of power in this province, but it did not know how to curb a swelling interethnic conflict and provide peace and security. When this territory became engulfed in total chaos, the international community stepped in and practically removed Kosovo from Serbia's rule.

What comes now is the definition of a new status of Kosovo. In the meantime, a major political turnabout has occurred in Belgrade. The regime that was mostly to blame for the exacerbation of the Kosovo problem has been overthrown, but unfortunately, this has not obliterated in the eyes of international arbiters a negative role played by Belgrade in the creation of the Kosovo crisis.

Last weekend, Serbia sent to Vienna a team of a completely different political mentality than the one that had travelled to the Rambouillet conference, but it is little likely, despite its democratic and pro-European endorsement, that it will manage to convince Europe and the world that Kosovo will be comfortable in a Serbia without Milosevic. The dark shadow of Rambouillet as the symbol of an arrogant, uncooperative and defiant policy of Belgrade that cared nothing for the consequences of its intransigence will inevitably loom over the present negotiating team. The difficulty of their negotiating position is evident from the statement of the chief international mediator, Martti Ahtisaari, made on the day the Belgrade team left for Vienna. Not for the first time, a representative of the international community made it known with frankness unusual in diplomatic communication that independence is the most likely option for the future status of Kosovo.

This forecast is not pleasant for anybody in Serbia to hear, but a serious, rational policy absolutely must take it into account. If by some miracle more is achieved, that will, naturally, be easy to accept and explain to the domestic public. Belgrade must have a rational attitude and a policy ready for the painful eventuality - an independent Kosovo.

Source: Danas, Belgrade, in Serbian 21 Feb 06

Kosovo Protection Corps to become Kosovo army, says president

PRISTINA, Feb 22 (Hina) - Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said on Wednesday the Kosovo Protection Corps would soon be transformed into the Kosovo army, which he discussed today with the Corps commander, General Agim Qeku.

Sejdiu and Qeku said they expected Kosovo to be independent soon and in this context considered the possibility of transforming the Protection Corps into the army of independent Kosovo, a press release said.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

FIFA receives Kosovo football delegation

On Tuesday, 21 February 2006, a FIFA delegation, headed by FIFA Executive Committee member and UEFA first vice-president Senes Erzik, met with representatives of the Football Federation of Kosovo, Fadil Vokrri (coordinator) and Fazil Berisha (spokesman), at FIFA House in Zurich. The specific purpose of the visit was to discuss football-related issues in Kosovo.

During the meeting, Mr Erzik explained that, according to Article 10 of the FIFA Statutes, any Association which is responsible for organising and supervising football in its country can apply for membership, pointing out that the expression ”country” refers to an independent state recognised by the international community. In this context, FIFA indicated that it would follow the discussions opened by the United Nations in Vienna on 20 February 2006 regarding the “final status” of Kosovo.

The delegation from the Kosovo football community understood and accepted this explanation, and stated that they only wished to discuss football-related matters and problems faced by Kosovo players.

The main point brought up by the delegation from Kosovo related to the difficulty faced by their clubs and players when trying to transfer local players to clubs outside of Kosovo. FIFA asked for all pertinent documentation from the Football Federation of Kosovo regarding this matter in order to look at possible solutions.

Both delegations considered the meeting as positive and fruitful and agreed to await the results of the discussions initiated by the international community regarding Kosovo.

Reports that war crimes fugitive Mladic arrested

By Reuters Tuesday February 21 2006. 5.18pm

Top Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic has been arrested, the official Serbian news agency Tanjug on Tuesday quoted a local television station in Bosnia’s Serb Republic as saying.

It said TV BN reported that the wartime Bosnian Serb Army commander had been taken into custody in the Serbian capital Belgrade and was being transferred via the northeast Bosnia city of Tuzla to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

There was no official confirmation of the report.

An earlier report by Belgrade’s “Studio B” television said Mladic had been located “in the area of Tuzla”, which lies close to the mountainous border with Serbia.

Madic was indicted in 1995 for genocide for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo which claimed 12,000 lives and for orchestrating the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.

Serbian newspapers were full of speculation on Tuesday that Mladic could soon be on a plane to The Hague, in time to avert suspension of European Union association talks with Belgrade.

Reports spoke of intense efforts by Belgrade to deliver the 63-year-old general to the United Nations court before the end of February, either by arresting him or negotiating a surrender.

This is the deadline for a report by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn to the 25 EU foreign ministers assessing whether Serbia is cooperating fully with the U.N. tribunal.

Vladeta Jankovic, adviser to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said efforts to find Mladic were “in full swing”. He said he had no information Mladic had been found and denied the prime minister had promised a deadline for a handover.

“The government is aware of the consequences,” he told B92 radio. “It might be a decisive moment, not only for the survival of the government, but for the future prospects of the state.”

Mladic’s handover was “almost a condition of survival”.

Belgrade is desperate to avoid suspension of Stabilisation and Association pact talks begun last year. They are the first step to eventual EU membership -- Serbia’s top priority -- and Brussels has warned they will stop if Mladic is not arrested.

Reports predicting his imminent arrest or detailing official efforts to track him down intensify each time Serbia faces a Western deadline for action, although Serbia constantly protests that it has no evidence he is even in the country.

On Tuesday, the daily Blic quoted former state security chief Goran Petrovic as saying the state was giving former Bosnian Serb Army commander Mladic ten more days to surrender.

“Talks on Mladic’s surrender are in their final phase. About 10 days are left for his handover and they are now looking for an appropriate scenario for his surrender,” Petrovic said. He said the authorities were in constant contact with Mladic.

He lived openly in Belgrade until the fall of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 undermined his support. Chief tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has repeatedly charged that he is still protected by hardline elements in the Army and security agencies of Serbia.

Serbian Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic said it would be a good time to extradite Mladic, who is still regarded as a hero-soldier by staunch nationalists opposed to his arrest.

“The latest polls show 57 percent of citizens are in favour of this option. This is the largest percentage so far, much higher than in 2005 let alone 2004, “ Ljajic said.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Talks finally begin on Kosovo's future

By Judy Dempsey International Herald Tribune

VIENNA Serbian and ethnic Albanian negotiators on Monday sat down together for the first time in an effort to resolve the status of Kosovo, one of the last but most difficult disputes left over from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The wrangling over the province, which is a part of Serbia and Montenegro and is under a UN protectorate, has prevented the region from moving toward long-term stability.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the province's two million people, expect they will be granted independence, while Serbian leaders say they are prepared to give the province a wide degree of autonomy but not independence.

The closed-door "final status talks," which opened in the Kinsky Palace in Vienna under the chairmanship of a United Nations' special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, once a president of Finland, could last until the end of the year, diplomats said.

The discussions had been due to start in January but were postponed after the death of the Kosovo president, Ibrahim Rugova, a champion of independence.

Depending on how the talks go, they could bring this part of the western Balkans closer to Europe or leave it simmering in resentment that could feed another wave of radical nationalism.

Serbian politicians still regard Kosovo, a small southern province that shares a border with Albania, as the cradle of Serbian culture and history stretching back centuries.

The leader of the Serbian delegation, Slobodan Samardzic, "does not expect much" from the meeting in Vienna. The goal, he said, is "autonomy for Serbs in Kosovo."

In contrast, Lutfi Haziri, head of Kosovo's delegation, was upbeat on Monday. "We hope that the status talks will finish soon and we have come well prepared," he said on arrival. "Independence is coming."

The fate of Kosovo has hung in the balance since Yugoslavia collapsed into civil war in the early 1990s.

First Slovenia and Croatia fought their way to independence, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Kosovo conflict erupted in 1999. Europe's worst conflagration since the end of World War II, these wars exposed the enormous challenges arising from the end of the Cold War in 1989, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall was broken down by peaceful demonstrators.

The Kosovo war ended with a NATO bombing campaign that forced Slobodan Milosevic, then the Yugoslav leader who is now on trial at The Hague for war crimes committed during the Bosnia conflict, to withdraw Serbian troops and turn the province over to the United Nations.

The 80,000 ethnic Serbs who remain in Kosovo live in isolated enclaves that are protected by NATO peacekeepers. UN officials have estimated that more than 200,000 people, mainly Serbs, have fled the region since they established the special administration in June 1999, largely for fear of reprisals by ethnic Albanian extremists.

Hua Jiang, Ahtisaari's spokeswoman, said any settlement was "about minority rights and safety." She said the entire process was "about setting up a multi- ethnic society in Kosovo."

But the previous attempt by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union to establish a multiethnic society, in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, has not been an inspiring example.

Despite international pressure, the three communities in Bosnia have been reluctant to cooperate on security, defense, judicial or interior affairs, said diplomats in the federation.

Jiang said the first, two-day round of talks over Kosovo would deal with government changes aimed at enhancing the rights of Serbs and other minorities, since "both sides have a willingness to tackle it."

Diplomats from the countries known as the Contact Group - the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia - have already set out guidelines for Kosovo's future.

Those rules say the province cannot return to its previous status under direct Serbian rule; it cannot be partitioned along ethnic lines or be joined to another country in the region, such as Albania; and any agreement should be acceptable to the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

Washington has been pressing for talks on the final status of Kosovo for the last year, while the Europe Union was reluctant to begin, saying the time was not ripe.

The United States would like to see the United Nations hand over responsibility for the former Yugoslavia to the European Union and phase out the costly protectorates in both Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nicholas Burns, deputy U.S. secretary of state of state for European affairs, has played a major role in pushing that agenda.

Serbs and Albanians ease into Kosovo talks

By Matthew Robinson

VIENNA (Reuters) - Serbs and ethnic Albanians eased their way into direct negotiations on Monday that ultimately will lead to a decision on whether Kosovo gets independence or remains part of Serbia.

"It went well," an official close to the United Nations-chaired meeting told Reuters as delegates left the Vienna venue. "There were disagreements, but they were to be expected. Everyone was very frank, but constructive."

All signs are that the major powers will steer the talks towards independence for the province which is legally part of Serbia, but has a 90-percent ethnic Albanian population.

The province of 2 million people has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against ethnic Albanian civilians in a 2-year war with separatist rebels.

Some 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed and up to 800,000 driven from their homes. The Albanians insist independence is non-negotiable, but Serbs regard Kosovo as sacred land.

"There's no blood on the floor and they're still in the room," the official said during an earlier break, reflecting the relief felt at finally getting the two sides at the same table. The talks are expected to last into late this year.

The first round, due to close on Tuesday, focuses on practical issues regarding Kosovo's remaining Serb minority of 100,000, ghettoised and targeted for revenge since the war. Thousands of their kin fled a wave of revenge attacks that followed NATO's deployment in 1999. Few have returned.

The two 8-member teams of mid-level politicians and advisers sat at a horseshoe table, chaired by a deputy to U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Delegates posed stiffly for photographs. There were no handshakes.

"We want the status resolved as soon as possible," Kosovo Albanian delegation chief Lutfi Haziri said on arrival. "Independence is coming and we are playing a positive role."


Western diplomats say independence hinges on the Albanians offering Kosovo's minorities a viable future.

"The majority population here in Kosovo has a right to expect that their aspirations will be met when status is decided," U.N. governor Soren Jessen-Petersen said on Sunday.

"But it is equally important that the majority is seen to be committed ... on minority issues."

Belgrade wants an autonomous Serb entity with strong ties to Serbia. Albanians say this means partition of Kosovo, a concept ruled out by the West. They offer more modest devolution.

Major powers want a deal on "final status" within the year.

Back in Kosovo, Albanian activists angry at having to negotiate with Serbia handed out "wanted posters" for the province's leaders, saying they were "trading with the lives of 2 million people without asking".

Rich in Orthodox religious heritage, Kosovo has been central to Serb history and identity for 1,000 years.

Kosovo Serbs rallied to urge their negotiating team in Vienna to "defend Serbia and protect its territory." Rally organiser Zivorad Tomic said: "If Kosovo gets independence, not a single Serb will remain on this land".

(Additional reporting by Shaban Buza in Pristina)