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WPW Kosovo's Status Potential Flashpoint in Balkans

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    http://worldpoliticswatch.com/article.aspx?id=320 WORLD POLITICS WATCH Kosovo s Status Potential Flashpoint in Balkans Damir Cosic | Bio | 07 Nov 2006 World
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      Kosovo's Status Potential Flashpoint in Balkans
      Damir Cosic | Bio | 07 Nov 2006

      World Politics Watch Exclusive

      SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina -- Apparently, this is a year for close
      referendums in the Balkans. Earlier this year, Montenegrins voted for
      independence from Serbia with a 0.5 percent margin of victory. The "yes"
      vote needed to be 55 percent for the tiny republic to become an independent
      state. The "yes" campaign carried the day with 55.5 percent. On the weekend
      of Oct. 28-29, the citizens of Serbia voted in a referendum to approve
      Serbia's first non-communist constitution in 60 years. It was another close

      For the constitution to be approved, at least 3.3 million people needed to
      vote for it, or 50 percent plus one vote. Some 6.6 million people were
      registered to vote in the referendum. According to Serbia's Election
      Commission, 51.4 percent of the electorate voted to approve the new charter.
      The statisticians have calculated that the margin of victory was about
      100,000 votes. The lawyers have pointed out that this is Serbia's 13th
      constitution in two centuries of Serbian statehood, with an average life of
      16 years each.

      The most important and most controversial part of the new constitution is
      its preamble, which enshrines Kosovo as an "inalienable part of Serbia."
      This comes at a time when the U.N.-sponsored talks on the future of the
      Albanian-majority province are nearing their end. Kosovo has remained a U.N.
      protectorate since June 1999, after NATO fought a 78-day air campaign
      against Slobodan Milosevic's forces. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244,
      which established the protectorate, stated that Kosovo is formally a part of
      Serbia, but also said Kosovo's "final status" would be determined at a later

      Despite Serbian leaders' eagerness to claim Kosovo as a part of Serbia, they
      excluded some 2.2 million Albanians living there from the voter registration
      lists. Had they included them, the Albanians in all probability would have
      boycotted the vote, and the Referendum would have failed, as the turnout
      threshold would not have been met.

      The reactions to the results were predictable.

      Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian President Boris Tadic
      congratulated the public. "This is a historic moment for Serbia. . . . This
      is a beginning of a new era," said the Prime Minister. The President called
      the results, "very good news."

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      Kosovo's leaders and head of the U.N. mission in the province claimed that
      the referendum would have no legal impact on the U.N.-led negotiations over
      establishing Kosovo's final status. Joachim Ruecker, head of U.N. mission in
      Kosovo, said that the referendum and the final status negotiations are "two
      separate things."

      Serbia's opposition Liberal Party, which led the boycott of the campaign,
      claimed that "massive fraud" occurred at polling stations in the final hours
      of voting, with individuals allegedly voting several times and without
      identification documents.

      So, the stage has been set for the final resolution of the political map of
      the Balkans. The negotiations on the final status of Kosovo will end the
      process that began with the break up of former Yugoslavia 15 years ago,
      which led to wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and,
      finally, Kosovo.

      The negotiations, led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, were
      supposed to see the parties come to a mediated settlement. But they were
      doomed from the start. Serbian leaders were ready to offer Kosovo Albanians
      the highest form of autonomy within Serbia, short of independence. But
      Kosovo Albanians want nothing short of full independence. If the parties
      don't agree on a solution, Ahtisaari has the authority to propose one. What
      happens next will be critical for the future of this unstable region.

      The process is supposed to unfold as follows:

      Over the next couple of months, The Balkans Contact Group -- the United
      States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia -- will consider
      Ahtisaari's recommendations and possibly propose a solution to the Security
      Council for a final decision. The United States and some its allies have
      informally told the two parties that they will propose independence this
      year. Russia and China are opposed to an imposed solution, and few
      governments favor dividing up another country's territory, whatever the
      circumstances involved.

      The new constitution, with its preamble, serves two purposes for Kostunica.
      Domestically, it is intended to show voters that his government did
      everything it could to "save Kosovo." Otherwise, his party might loose the
      upcoming elections to the ultra-nationalistic Radical Party. That party's
      leader, Tomislav Nikolic, has already asked the military to draw up plans to
      "defend" Kosovo should it get independence. Internationally, the vote on the
      new constitution can be used to ask for postponement of the Contact Group's
      decision until after the planned Serbian elections in December 2006, to
      avoid the Radicals' taking power. Moreover, the Serbian government has
      encouraged the leaders of Bosnia's Republika Srpska to threaten their own
      referendum on a separation from still fragile Bosnia and Herzegovina. This
      enables the Serbian government to claim that granting independence to Kosovo
      will destabilize the region. Just this past week, Kostunica accused
      Montenegro's leadership of violating Serbia's sovereignty "in a most direct
      way" by treating Kosovo as an independent neighbor during a recent visit to
      Montenegro by Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku.

      Serbia's delay tactics might be working.

      Over the weekend, U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan said the United Nations
      "might not stick to the deadlines as we had originally planned." The
      interview was published Nov. 4 in Vijesnik, a Croatian Daily. He went on to
      say, "Considering the referendum, and the fact that they want elections in
      Serbia, we have to be cautious. Ahtisaari also has to be cautious so that
      the issue of the final status of Kosovo is not used for pre-election
      purposes. . . . A proposal on Kosovo must be presented at the right time,
      that's the key."

      Kosovo Albanian leaders will not welcome such intimations of delay, as they
      worry that impatience for independence and high unemployment might spark
      violence in Kosovo. Should any delay prove more than a short term pause, the
      Kosovo leadership might declare independence unilaterally and force
      countries to decide whether they will recognize the new country. At minimum,
      the Serbs of North Kosovo would then declare their own independence and
      Serbia would campaign strongly against recognition of Kosovo as an
      independent state.

      The delicate balancing act of the Untied Nations and Western diplomats will
      be even harder to sustain in the future. Any action -- or inaction - on the
      question of Kosovo's status risks sparking outbreaks of potentially violent

      Damir Cosic is an Economic Analyst for the Central Bank of Bosnia and
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