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Negotiations to Begin on Final Status of Kosovo

Last week the United Nations recommended the start of talks on the final status of Kosovo, which has been in political limbo since 1999, when the Kosovar Albanians returned after a war of ethnic cleansing. At issue is whether Kosovo will remain a province of Serbia or eventually attain independence, as most Kosovar Albanians want. Six years ago, NATO troops led by the United States intervened on behalf of the Kosovar Albanian refugees who had been expelled from the province of Kosovo by Serbian forces during the regime of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently on trial in The Hague.

British journalist and UN reporter Ian Williams said that for many years the international community has been unwilling to address the issue of the final status of Kosovo. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Williams noted the resolutions that set up the UN Protectorate in Kosovo were deliberately ambiguous to avoid offending veto-wielding Russia and China, which had opposed NATO intervention in the region. Furthermore, evidence that the majority Albanian population of Kosovo, the original victims of ethnic cleansing, had mistreated Serbs and other ethnic minorities over the past few years did nothing to advance a UN decision on Kosovo’s political status. Nonetheless, Ian Williams said that in the end Kosovo would probably move toward independence because there was “no way” the majority population would agree to accept its former legal status as a province of Serbia.

But Slobodan Pavlovic, U.S. bureau chief of Serbia’s B-K independent television network, said that in addition to serious problems regarding the rights of the Serb minority population in Kosovo, the politicians in Belgrade face domestic political concerns that limit their flexibility in negotiating Kosovo’s final status. He noted that a compromise agreement resulting in independence would be “political suicide” for Serbia’s leadership. Nonetheless, Aferdita Kelmendi, director of Radio/TV 21 in Pristina, said the overwhelming majority of Kosovars favor independence, and it is not Belgrade’s prerogative to dictate what is most workable for the Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs.

Blerim Shala, editor of the independent Kosovar Albanian newspaper Zeri, said that the majority population is preparing for full independence and it will be the responsibility of Kosovo’s political leaders to guarantee the rights of all citizens, including the Serbs of Kosovo. Mr. Shala said these rights include economic stability and employment. British reporter Ian Williams agreed that Kosovo’s economic situation is desperate but indicated that the long-term prospects of EU membership might serve as an inducement for development and change. All the journalists agree that resolving Kosovo’s status is likely to be a long, difficult process that will require careful monitoring and security guarantees.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.