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Experts Concerned Over Kosovo Future - 2004-01-21

The future of Kosovo, the Albanian populated, disputed southern province of Serbia, was discussed this week at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center. Jeffrey Simon, a scholar and expert on Kosovo, says things are not good in Kosovo, the United Nations administered territory in the heart of the Balkans. Mr. Simon says the international community has not reached consensus on the territory's future and thus an enduring settlement is not even on the agenda.

The United Nations last month published a ten page set of standards that Kosovo's provisional government must implement before future status can be considered, perhaps at the end of next year. Serbia, whose forces were driven out of Kosovo by a sustained Nato bombardment in 1999, opposes independence while the territory's one million ethnic Albanians demand it.

Mr. Simon, a researcher at Washington's National Defense University, says uncertainty is a huge obstacle complicating the development of effective local government.

"You have the growing apathy of citizens. You have the increasing impunity of the spoilers who have no interest in the development of Kosovo," he said. "And you have the relative ineffectiveness of international institutions. Their ineffectiveness especially in working with different groups in order to build a common democratic future."

Mr. Simon says the NATO-led occupying force in Kosovo enforces a kind of perverse stability in the territory.

Vasil Tupurkovski, also speaking at the Wilson Center, an opposition politician in Macedonia which borders Kosovo on the south, sees things differently. He says the international community is moving towards accepting the independence of Kosovo, a development Mr. Tupurkovski believes will unsettle the entire region.

"It will be a problem for Serbia," he said. "It will be a problem for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which means again the resurrection of many issues in the Balkans. From that respect I believe the (U.N.) standards do have a meaning. And that the international community will make a tremendous mistake if they don't stand behind the standards, regardless of the timetable."

Mr. Tupurkovski says it would be disastrous if the international community permitted borders to be changed anywhere in the former Yugoslavia. He believes Macedonia, where over one quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian, is threatened by Kosovo's independence. And he worries greatly about the possibility that ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia will seek to join with Albania to form a greater Albania.