As United Nations negotiations on the future of Kosovo continue in Vienna, the Kosovar-Albanian responsible for the economic component of the talks says the predominantly ethnic-Albanian territory seeks normal economic relations with Serbia.
University of Pristina economics professor Muhamet Mustafa is hopeful that the upcoming economic negotiations with the United Nations and Serbia will have a positive result. The economic component of the status talks is likely to begin in May and will bring together officials from the United Nations, Serbia and Kosovo. "We would like that from the negotiation, after the negotiation, we start to build normal economic relations with Serbia. We need normal economic cooperation. Cooperation is already happening. Almost 20 percent of our imports are originating from Serbia and Montenegro," he said.
Mr. Mustafa spoke Wednesday at a Washington business forum.
Still technically a province of Serbia, Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic-Albanian population seeks full independence, which is opposed by its 10 percent Serb minority and the government in Belgrade. The United Nations, which has administered Kosovo since NATO drove the Serbian military out of Kosovo in 1999, hopes to resolve the territory's status by the end of this year.
Last month, Mr. Mustafa's counterpart in Belgrade, Nenad Popovic, expressed similar optimism about the Vienna negotiations. "I'm sure that if we sit together jointly, really show the ideas and the wish to get results, I'm sure we can do it," he said.
But despite the cautious optimism, there are deep divisions over matters of ownership, debt and privatization. The Serbs say the privatization of the big mining enterprises in Kosovo should be halted until ownership claims are resolved. Mr. Mustafa says Kosovo's Albanians have their own claims against the Serbs for the mass firings and repression they endured under the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. "Kosovo has its claims for the 1990s-the dismissal of 70 percent of the people who used to work in the public sector, the lost wages. The pension system was destroyed. The budget system was destroyed," he said.
Kosovo's economy is in bad shape with slow growth and unemployment approaching 50 percent of the work force.