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Kosovo PM Says He's Not Optimistic on Dialogue With Serbia - 2004-02-06

Kosovo's prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, is in Washington for talks with U.S. officials. Mr. Rexhepi is not optimistic about a dialogue with Serbia in light of the recent Serbian elections that failed to achieve a clear mandate.

Dr. Rexhepi told a gathering Thursday at the U.S. Institue of Peace that he was not surprised that nationalists did well in December's parliamentary election in Serbia. He suggested that the strengthened position of hardliners in the Belgrade parliament will make dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia more difficult. However, Dr. Rexhepi himself has long been cool to negotiating with Belgrade even on practical matters of energy, transportation and tracking down persons still missing from the 1999 war.

Dr. Rexhepi, a medical doctor who served with the Kosovo Liberation Army during the 1999 conflict, was elected prime minister in 2002. He says the final status of Kosovo is the biggest problem facing his Albanian populated territory that is still nominally part of Serbia. He says he told Secretary of State Colin Powell that a continued U.S. presence in Kosovo is essential.

Dr. Rexhepi rejects the assertion that Kosovo is the center for organized crime in the southern Balkans. "Where is the genesis of organized crime in the Balkans? I could say that it is in Serbia because during the Milosevic regime they established organized crime in legal structures and they developed their plan and now it is complete," he said.

While recognizing that organized crime is a problem in Kosovo, Dr. Rexhepi says this is the one area where Serbs and Albanians cooperate.

"Serbs and Albanians, they cooperate very well," he said. "It is one example, unfortunately, of how to cooperate. Sometimes Kosovo is only for transit. Sometimes it is a final destination because mainly the final destination of organized crime, drugs, and trafficking in human beings, is west Europe."

Dr. Rexhepi and all major politicians in Kosovo favor independence while Serbia opposes it. Neighboring countries in the former Yugoslavia generally support the United Nations plan that puts off discussion of Kosovo's final status until late 2005.