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Experts: Reconciliation Between Kosovo's Ethnic Albanians, Serbs Will Take Time - 2004-02-05

The future of the nominally Serbian but mostly ethnic Albanian populated territory of Kosovo was discussed this week at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center.

At a forum on cooperation in the Balkans, specialists on Kosovo could offer little hope of early reconciliation between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. About the only thing they agreed on is that the best way forward for Kosovo and its neighbors is integration into the European Union.

Nearly five years after the arrival of a NATO-led peacekeeping force and the withdrawal of Serbian forces, agreement on the future status of Kosovo remains elusive. The United Nations, which administers the province, is promising that future status negotiations could begin next year, provided the elected government satisfies specified standards of good conduct.

Ilbar Husa, a young journalist who runs a research organization in Pristina, endorses the Western imposed standards but complains that U.N. administrators refuse to hand over real power to the Albanian dominated local authority.

"You need to transfer competencies," he said. "The only way to give a chance to the Albanians - the majority - to play by the rules is to empower them. To make them responsible. And of course Kosovars will keep blaming UNMIK [U.N. administrators] if they are controlling the police, the judiciary, and all those things."

Kosovo's population consists of about two million ethnic Albanians and less than 100,000 Serbs who live in enclaves protected by international peacekeepers.

Vladimir Bozovic works at the Serbian government agency responsible for Kosovo. He calls attention to numerous murders, the destruction of Serbian religious shrines, and the unwillingness of the ethnic Albanians to permit some 200,000 Serb refugees to return to Kosovo.

"The rest of the Serbs who stayed in Kosovo live in terrible conditions, without freedom of movement and without any of the conditions for a normal life or work," he said.

Mr. Bozovic, like Mr. Husa, endorses the United Nations standards for self-government in Kosovo. Mr. Husa concedes that the Kosovar Albanians need to do better on human rights. He says both Kosovar Albanians and Serbs are having difficulty coming to terms with a new reality.

"Albanians have not yet understood that they are a majority and that being a majority means taking responsibilities," he said. "And for Serbs it is very difficult to understand that they are a minority. They used to be for many years an imperial social structure for the policies of Belgrade. And even now you can see them obstructing many of the policies in parliament."

During the decade-long rule of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, Kosovo was stripped of its limited autonomy and the majority Albanians were excluded from significant positions in government and the economy. Privatization in Kosovo has been slow, held up by opposition from Belgrade and disputes over compensation for previous owners.