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Future of Kosovo as Independant State Still Uncertain - 2002-06-12

Monday, three years after the arrival of NATO peacekeeping troops in Serbia's Kosovo province, the U.S. Institute of Peace held a seminar in Washington on the future status of the largely Albanian populated territory.

Veton Surroi, a political activist and publisher of Pristina's principal newspaper, is optimistic that Kosovo will become an independent state.

Events in neighboring territories of the former Yugoslavia, he says, will be help determine the timetable. These include the nature of the relationship that emerges between Montenegro and Serbia after their soon to be launched three-year federation expires in 2005. Mr. Serroi also noted the critical factors of Bosnia-Herzegovina's future a single state and the authenticity of Macedonia's commitment to fully integrate its ethnic Albanians into Macedonian society.

"We will have within the next three years not only a dynamic that will lead all of these societies to make decisions about themselves, but also a dynamic that will create conditions for this part of Europe to make much bigger decisions," Mr. Surroi said. Kosovo independence is opposed by both Serbia and the European Union.

Mr. Surroi anticipates free trade agreements will emerge soon among Balkan countries, and he emphasizes that most countries of the region seek to integrate themselves into the west by joining NATO and the European Union. He dismisses any likelihood of Albanians joining together in a greater Albania or greater Kosovo.

Mr. Surroi is skeptical about the Kosovo intentions of the reformist government in Belgrade, commenting, "It is difficult to say what Serbia wants because there is not one Serbia yet," he said. "There are many who are claiming to be the voice of Serbia."

Daniel Serwer, the former U.S. diplomat who heads the Balkans Project at the Institute of Peace, says the international community has failed to provide Kosovo with meaningful self-government. "Kosovo needs its own government authority," he said, "whether it is because the international community has taken too much responsibility or the citizens of Kosovo have taken too little, we still don't have the kind of local self-government that is required."

Mr. Surroi concedes that corruption is a significant problem in Kosovo, and that is due in part to the influence of foreign money. He cites the example of the international community distorting the local economy to the extent that a cleaner for the United Nations in Pristina earns twice the salary of a trial judge.