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US Lawmakers Voice Diverging Views on Kosovo - 2003-05-22

Some congressional lawmakers are questioning the State Department's opposition to independence for Kosovo, which has been under United Nations administration since 1999. Differences of opinion emerged during a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.

Kosovo's final status has been unresolved since the 1999 U.N. Security Council Resolution ending the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia established a framework for administering the province.

Nearly four years since the end of ethnic bloodletting between Serbs and Albanians, 25,000 NATO-led troops still provide security, including about 2,000 Americans.

In testimony Wednesday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Central Europe, Janet Bogue, said Kosovo has made important strides toward becoming a multi-ethnic, democratic society.

However, she says not enough progress has been made toward achieving important benchmarks. These include: functioning democratic institutions, rule of law, freedom of movement, returns and integration, economic stability, and a stable Kosovo protection force.

For this reason, Ms. Bogue says, the Bush administration opposes steps now toward either independence, or partition:

"There are those in Kosovo who seek immediate independence," she said. "There are those in Serbia who seek immediate partition. We oppose both moves. We believe that a decision today on final status would risk destabilizing Kosovo and the broader region, which has only now emerged from a decade of crippling conflicts. An immediate decision on final status would inflame those in the region who seek violent solutions."

However, some lawmakers Democrats and Republicans disagree. They say the United States is setting the mark too high for Kosovo.

"Persistent tensions in the Balkans cannot be resolved if we continue to procrastinate on Kosovo's final status," said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee. "To achieve a just and lasting peace in Southeast Europe, a turbulent region if there ever was one, we must give Kosovo its independence and we should do it now."

Mr. Lantos and the Republican chairman of the committee, Henry Hyde, have proposed a non-binding resolution calling on the Bush administration to support independence for Kosovo.

The Bush administration opposes the resolution, because as Ms. Bogue put it, this "could lead to confusion about the position of the United States and detract from the work of institution-building and ethnic reconciliation."

Daniel Serwer, of the United States Institute of Peace, also opposes any hasty move toward formal final status negotiations. Careful preparations are required, he says, leading to possible final status negotiations in 2005.

"By 2005, Belgrade will have a new constitution, new parliament, new president," he pointed out. "And Pristina (Kosovo capital) will have a new assembly, and a new president. So it seems to me, at that point, the timing will be ripe."

Mr. Serwer says a congressional resolution of support for Kosovo's independence, however symbolic, risks sending an unclear signal to the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina who ultimately will have to decide the final status of the province.