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Deadlocked Kosovo Status Negotiations Worry Experts

Political analysts who follow the U.N.-sponsored negotiations on the future status of Kosovo told a congressional panel Thursday they are worried about the lack of any progress in the talks.

Since February the United Nations has brokered six rounds of talks in Vienna between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians over the status of the Serb province. A vast majority of Kosovars, who are ethnic Albanians, support independence from Serbia.

Daniel Serwer, of the US Institute of Peace, told the congressional Helsinki (human rights) committee that so far, Belgrade has not been constructive in the talks. He said Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica probably hopes for an eventual partition of Kosovo, from which Serbia was forced to withdraw in 1999.

"Kostunica's backward-looking attitude extends to Kosovo as well, where Serbia is determined to maintain governing authority over Serbs (there) on a clearly defined territory. This may not be partition, but it is too close for comfort. Ethnocentric partition of this sort would set a precedent that Albanians would want to follow in southern Serbia as well as in Macedonia," he said.

Partition in Kosovo, said Serwer, could lead to further fragmentation in neighboring Bosnia Herzegovina, which is already divided into two entities.

Janusz Bugaski, the Balkans expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, says partition might be a legitimate way to protect Kosovo's 10 percent Serb minority. But he would support partition only with strict conditions. "It wouldn't be a disaster if it were done under three conditions. One, that Pristina and Belgrade recognize each other as independent states. Two, that the negotiations over any kind of territorial transfers would be done between the two governments. And thirdly, that the international community be involved in any population movements afterwards," he said.

Serwer says the Kosovo Albanians are also to be blamed for lack of progress in the status talks. "The failure of its institutions of provisional self-government to get (refugee) Serbs back to their homes safely and securely is the biggest single obstacle to determining final status, which should be done this year. Kosovo's elected leadership must take responsibility for this failure," he said.

UN negotiators concede that they may not be able to get the Serbs and Albanians to agree on Kosovo's future. If that happens, Kosovo's status would likely be imposed by the six nation contact group that is guiding the UN negotiations. The group consists of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.