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Political Situation in Serbia Remains Unclear

A U.S. research group says the political situation in Serbia remains confused as the Balkan country is led by a weak minority government with no clear commitment either to economic reform or cooperating with the Hague war crimes tribunal.

In a report released by the U.S. Institute of Peace, political analyst Vladimir Matic says Serbia hasn't reached consensus on how to interpret the events that tore apart the old Yugoslavia. Now a professor at Clemson University, the former Yugoslav diplomat says there is also no consensus on how to deal with the Hague war crimes tribunal or Kosovo, the majority Albanian populated Serbian province now administered by the United Nations. Mr. Matic says a key question is whether President Boris Tadic can rally the fragmented democratic forces and put Serbia back on the path to reform.

James Lyon, an analyst for the International Crisis Group in Belgrade, says while the minority government led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is fragile, even the former communists and radicals are reluctant to bring it down.

"The Radicals as well as the Socialists also know that as long as this current government is in power, the government probably won't arrest any Hague indictees and send them off to the Hague. And so I think they're content to see the government just kind of flounder," he said.

But Mr. Lyon says the Serbian people are ill-served by a government that hasn't developed a clear policy on what to do with the economy, Serbia's relationship with Montenegro, and, most important, Kosovo. The major powers say they hope to reach a position this year on the final status of Kosovo. The ethnic Albanian population is demanding independence, which is firmly opposed by all Serbian political parties.

Mr. Lyon says, while Belgrade has been unable to formulate proposals for Kosovo's future, he has no doubt that it will act militarily should there be a repeat of the anti-Serb rioting that occurred last March.

"But in the event there is renewed violence we can be almost certain that the Serbs will send armed forces into Kosovo again to try to occupy at the very least the northern Serbian majority municipalities and the areas that abut Serbia proper," he said. "And the question will be, will the international community respond to that? Or will be have another Cyprus?"

Professor Matic at Clemson University says there is a very uneasy relationship between President Tadic, who was elected last June, and Prime Minister Kostunica. Mr. Tadic's Democratic Party, which rivals the Radicals in voter popularity, is pushing for early elections. Several analysts say that, while early elections are possible, they are unlikley to take place before the latter part of this year.