July 26, 2006

KiM Info Newsletter 26-07-06

International sources on Belgrade-Pristina negotiations on Kosovo's future status

Serbian, Kosovo Albanian talks fail to reach breakthrough on future status

VIENNA, July 24, 2006 (AFP)

The talks between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders on Monday failed to produce a breakthrough in solving the sensitive issue of the province's future status, as the two sides remained entrenched in their rival positions, officials said.

When asked if there had been any breakthrough, UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who have chaired the talks, said: "No. I would be lying if I said so."

"It was the first meeting of this kind. It would be totally wrong from my side to expect any breakthrough," Ahtisaari told reporters at the end of the one-day meeting.

The unprecedented talks were the first chance for the Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leadership to meet face-to-face and directly exchange their opposing views on Kosovo's future since a NATO air war drove Belgrade's forces from the province in 1999.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence but Belgrade and Kosovo's minority Serb community insist the region is part of Serbian territory that cannot be given away.

"They are as far apart as possible: Belgrade would accept everything but independence, while Kosovo Albanians will accept nothing but independence,"
Ahtisaari said.

But the UN official played down the disappointment with such an outcome, describing the talks as "frank and candid", and adding that the atmosphere was "better than I could have expected."

"I was pleasantly surprised with the discussions," he said.

Speaking after Ahtisaari, Serbian President Boris Tadic said the "talks were good" despite the "totally different positions" of both sides. Tadic insisted that Serbia was "against any imposed solution on Kosovo."

"Serbia has no intention to govern Kosovo Albanians. Serbia has the intention to defend our legitimate interests," Tadic said.

But Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said Pristina would "strive to work and build an independent Kosovo which would provide full respect for its people and residents, including the minorities."

"The independence is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of our position," Sejdiu insisted.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian troops under then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw and end a brutal crackdown aganist armed ethnic Albanian separatists.

Up to 10,000 people have died while hundreds of thousands, mostly ethnic Albanians, fled the province during the war.

The international community has pushed for a deal by the end of this year, fearing fresh unrest in the province where some 17,000 NATO troops act as peacekeepers amid constant inter-ethnic hostility and frequent violence.

But since the province, technically still a part of Serbia, has come under the UN administration, some 200,000 minority Serbs have fled Kosovo, fearing reprisals from ethnic Albanian hardliners. Those who have remained live in enclaves, heavily protected by NATO.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Belgrade has offered a "substantial autonomy" for Kosovo that "can be improved, amended and changed."

"Independence is a final solution, it cannot be changed," Kostunica warned.

Earlier Monday, the delegates, who met behind closed doors in the Austrian capital, were welcomed by Austria's Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.

The Kosovo Albanians' delegation was the first to arrive, followed several minutes later by the Belgrade team that also included Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.

The two sides pointedly did not shake hands before they were seated opposite each other in an elaborately decorated Gothic room of the famous Palais Niederoesterreich.

Also present were officials of the six-member Contact Group that includes representatives of the United States and Russia, which have been involved in the UN-backed dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, launched in February.

Ahtisaari said a fresh round of talks, focused on more technical issues, would continue in August, with officials discussing topics as decentralization of power and more rights for minority communities.


Ethnic Albanians, Serb leaders far apart on Kosovo's future

Associated Press: Monday, July 24, 2006 3:28 PM

VIENNA, Austria-Top ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders were divided as ever Monday during their first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's future.

Ethnic Albanians arrived at the unprecedented talks, held in a Vienna palace, insisting that their tiny province be independent. Serbs said they were we ready to offer broad autonomy, but wanted to keep Kosovo within Serbian borders.

"It is evident that the positions of the parties remain far apart," U.N.
envoy Martti Ahtisaari told a news conference. "Belgrade would agree to almost anything but independence, whereas Pristina would accept nothing but full independence."

Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, said he saw no signs of a breakthrough in the daylong meeting, but also had not expected one.

"This is the first meeting of this kind," he said. "The idea of this meeting was to give the parties an opportunity to present their case."

The delegations provided their well-known arguments to reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the meeting that his country would not accept another state to be created on 15 percent of its territory.
Serbia claims Kosovo is the heart of its kingdom, and the medieval cradle of their statehood.

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu countered that independence was "the beginning and end of our position," and that the will of the province's ethnic Albanian majority could not be negotiated. Kosovo has said Serbia lost its right to govern the province after its former leadership sparked a war in which an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians died.

Kosovo's status was last formally discussed in 1999 at the height of the war that pitted Serbian troops loyal to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Those talks, held in France, ended with no results, after which a 78 days of NATO air attacks that forced an end to the Serb crackdown and put Kosovo under U.N. administration for the past seven years.

While violence has ebbed, the ethnic Albanian majority, 90 percent of the province's 2 million population, and its Serbian minority remain deeply divided over the future.

The U.N.-brokered talks are aimed at steering both sides toward a solution by year's end. Before Monday, the talks were held at experts' level, with proposals tabled on enhancing Serb minority rights.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic told the news conference after the meeting that the two sides' differences were substantial.

"We are flexible and we are for a compromise, but the compromise does not include independence," Tadic said, but added that Serbia not resort to violence in defending its interest.

Kostunica told reporters that independence for Kosovo would violate the U.N.
charter that guarantees the sovereignty of states. "If that piece of paper is violated, things all over the world will be destabilized," he said.

Kosovo's Sejdiu said independence was key for Kosovo's future, given its past.

"We had a bitter past with bad solutions that culminated into a war, which had tragic consequences for our people and those of the region," he told reporters. "The future of Kosovo is its full independence, which is the majority's will."

Ethnic Albanian leader Veton Surroi said it was "fairly improbable that there will be a negotiated solution," given the intransigence of both sides.

The six-nation Contact Group, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, supervising the process urged both sides to engage constructively and show flexibility and willingness to reach "realistic compromised-based solutions."

The group has set guidelines for the talks, however, including rejections of the province's return to Belgrade's control or of its partition or unification with other regional countries. It also has said the solution should be acceptable to Kosovo's people.

Associated Press Writer Aleksandar Vasovic contributed to this report.


Progress on Kosovo Hindered by Ethnic Divide

NEW YORK TIMES (USA)
July 24, 2006

By NICHOLAS WOOD

VIENNA, July 24 - Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders met here today to discuss the future of Kosovo, but following six months of apparently fruitless negotiations by lesser officials, there was little sign of even the smallest compromise.

Kosovo, a province of Serbia, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO's 78-day bombing campaign wrested it from Serbian control. The bombing followed a violent crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in the province.

The talks being held with the intention of returning Kosovo to local governance, resolving one of the regions most deeply rooted conflicts.

But the divide is enormous: the ethnic Albanians who are the majority in Kosovo want it to become an independent state, the Serbs want the region reintegrated into Serbia.

The five Western governments that are the talks' main sponsors said they are determined to impose a solution if necessary.

Speaking at a news conference after the one-day talks, Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who is the United Nations mediator in charge of the process said there had no been no progress: "I would be lying if I said so."
But he stressed that the main purpose of the meeting was to explain their positions before future negotiations.

So far this year the teams from both sides have sought to find common ground on how to govern Kosovo, but without considering the critical issue of sovereignty. Today's meeting brought the Serbian president, Boris Tadic, and prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, face to face with their Kosovo Albanian counterparts, Fatmir Sejdiu and Agim Ceku, for the first time in an official setting.

The meeting put the Serbian leaders in the awkward position of speaking with former members of the rebel group that fought the Serbian forces in 1999, the Kosovo Liberation Army, including Mr. Ceku. Serbian politicians accuse him of being a war criminal. But while the government troops killed and forced ethnic Albanian residents from their homes in 1999, the major violence and intimidation in recent years has been against the Serbian minority.

Unless an agreement takes form by the fall, diplomats here expect the United Nations to start work on an agreement that could be imposed on both parties - one that, they say, is likely to involve some form of independent state.

Both sides appeared stiff in manner today as they were led to opposite sides of a u-shaped table in room 13 of the Niederösterreich Palace. Within hours, each team was briefing journalists - who were not permitted to attend the talks - on what they saw as the failure of the opposing group to engage properly in the process. Mr. Kostunica's delegation left the palace before a scheduled lunch where Albanian and Serbian officials would have sat side by side.

And so with both sets of politicians under substantial pressure from their constituents not to be seen as giving in to the other, today's process appeared to be more about restating entrenched positions than engaging in negotiations. Both groups released their speeches to the media just ahead of the session.

Mr. Sejdiu said the ethnic Albanians' desire for independence for Kosovo was "the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of our position."

Mr. Kostunica warned that it was "not possible to find even a single precedent in European history which could be used as the argument to deprive Serbia of 15 percent of its territory."

Despite the rigid positions taken by both sides, there is a sense here of this being a significant moment, although one induced by international officials. Mr. Ahtisaari confirmed that he had invited the delegates responsible for the earlier rounds of talks to cancel their summer vacations and continue working in August.

At the same time, the Contact Group - made up of France, Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and Russia - issued a statement urging both sides to come to a negotiated settlement by the end of the year. If all attempts at negotiations fail, the United Nations Security Council is likely to draw up a resolution that imposes a solution on both sides, United Nations officials said. "The process must be brought to a close," read the Contact Group's announcement.


No compromise reached on Kosovo

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE (FRANCE)
By Nicholas Wood International Herald Tribune

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2006

VIENNA Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders met here Monday to discuss the future of the province of Kosovo but, following six months of apparently fruitless negotiations by lesser officials, they offered little sign of even the smallest compromise.

The Serb province has been administered by the United Nations since NATO's 78-day bombing campaign in 1999, which wrested the province from Serb control.

The talks are meant to return the province to local governance, resolving one of the region's most deep-rooted conflicts.

But the divide is enormous: The ethnic Albanians who are the majority in Kosovo want it to become an independent state; the Serbs want the region reintegrated into Serbia.

The five Western governments that are the talks' main sponsors said they were determined to impose a solution, if necessary.

Speaking at a press conference after the one-day meeting ended, Martti Ahtisaari, the UN mediator in charge of the process and a former Finnish president, said there had no been no progress. "I would be lying if I said so," he said.

But he stressed that the main purpose of the meeting had been for both sides to explain their positions before future negotiations.

So far this year, the teams from both sides have sought common ground on how to govern Kosovo without considering the critical issue of sovereignty.

The meeting Monday brought President Boris Tadic of Serbia and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica face to face for the first time in an official setting with their Kosovo Albanian counterparts, Fatmir Sejdiu and Agim Ceku.

The meeting put the Serbian leaders in the awkward position of speaking with former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army that had fought Serb forces in 1999, including Ceku. Serbian politicians have accused him of being a war criminal. But now it is the Serbian minority in Kosovo that is subject to intimidation and violence.

Unless an agreement takes form by the autumn, diplomats here expect the United Nations to start work on an agreement that could be imposed, one that, they say, is likely to involve some form of independent state.

Representatives on both sides appeared stiff Monday as they were led to opposite sides of a U-shaped table in a meeting room of the Niederöesterreich Palace.

Within hours, both teams were briefing journalists, who were not permitted to attend the talks, on what they said was the failure of the opposing group to engage properly in the process.

Kostunica's delegation left the palace before a scheduled lunch that would have had the Albanian and Serbian officials sitting side by side.

And so, with both sets of politicians under substantial pressure from their constituents not to be seen as compromising, the process Monday appeared to be more about restating entrenched positions than engaging in negotiations.

Sejdiu, the Kosovar president, said the Albanians' desire for an independent Kosovo was "the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of our position."

Kostunica warned that it was "not possible to find a even a single precedent in European history which could be used as the argument to deprive Serbia of
15 percent of its territory."

Despite the rigid positions taken by both sides, there is a sense of moment here, although one induced by international officials. Ahtisaari confirmed that he had asked the delegates responsible for the earlier rounds of talks to cancel their summer holidays and to continue working in August.

At the same time, the Contact Group - composed of France, Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and Russia - issued a statement urging both sides to come to a negotiated settlement by the end of the year.

"The process must be brought to a close," the group's statement said.



Kosovo Albanians reject compromise in status talks

SERBIANNA (USA)
July 24, 2006 11:19 PM

VIENNA, Austria-Top ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders staked out widely differing positions Monday during their first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's future.

Ethnic Albanians arrived at the unprecedented talks, held in a Vienna palace, insisting that their tiny province be independent. Serbs said they were we ready to offer broad autonomy, but wanted to keep Kosovo within Serbian borders.

"It is evident that the positions of the parties remain far apart," U.N.
envoy Martti Ahtisaari told a news conference. "Belgrade would agree to almost anything but independence, whereas Pristina would accept nothing but full independence."

Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, said he saw no signs of a breakthrough in the daylong meeting, but also had not expected one.

"This is the first meeting of this kind," he said. "The idea of this meeting was to give the parties an opportunity to present their case."

The delegations provided their arguments to reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his country would not accept another state to be created on 15 percent of its territory. Serbia claims Kosovo is the heart of its kingdom, and the medieval cradle of their statehood.

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu countered that independence was "the beginning and end of our position," and that the will of the province's ethnic Albanian majority could not be negotiated. Kosovo has said Serbia lost its right to govern the province after its former leadership sparked a war in which an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians died.

Kosovo's status was last formally discussed in 1999 at the height of the war that pitted Serbian troops loyal to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Those talks, held in France, ended with no results, after which a 78 days of NATO air attacks that forced an end to the Serb crackdown and put Kosovo under U.N. administration for the past seven years.

While violence has ebbed, the ethnic Albanian majority, 90 percent of the province's 2 million population, and its Serbian minority remain deeply divided over the future.

The U.N.-brokered talks are aimed at steering both sides toward a solution by year's end.

The six-nation Contact Group, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, supervising the process urged both sides to engage constructively and show flexibility and willingness to reach "realistic compromised-based solutions."

The group has set guidelines for the talks, however, including rejections of the province's return to Belgrade's control or of its partition or unification with other regional countries. It also has said the solution should be acceptable to Kosovo's people.


Summit on Kosovo ends in deadlock

THE GUARDIAN (UK)
Ian Traynor in Zagreb

Tuesday July 25, 2006

For the first time since going to war eight years ago, the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo sat down together yesterday to try to hammer out a settlement for the contested southern Balkan province.

But the Vienna summit of Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers and presidents, mediated by the UN envoy and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, merely underlined the starkly opposing positions on the issue of Kosovo's independence. "The sides are quite apart," he said at the end of the one-day summit.

Six months into UN-mediated talks on the ultimate status of the territory that has been under international rule since Nato bombed the Serbs out of Kosovo in 1999, the presidents and prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo met at a former Habsburg palace to argue about independence for Kosovo.

The Kosovan Albanian team announced that nothing short of independence and sovereignty was acceptable. The Serbian side offered everything but independence to the majority Albanian population, arguing that it would not forfeit 15% of its national territory, far less the province that the Serbs view as the cradle of their nation.

"Independence is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of our position," Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sejdiu, told the meeting. Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, flatly rejected independence for the southern province that is formally part of Serbia, but has been under UN administration since the 1998-99 war.

Mr Kostunica offered a form of home rule, saying: "Essential autonomy for Kosovo must be guaranteed and substantiated by a constitutional solution."

 

U.S. envoy urges Serbian officials to be more flexible in Kosovo talks

Released : Tuesday, July 25, 2006 10:34 AM

BELGRADE, Serbia-A U.S. envoy for Kosovo status talks on Tuesday urged Serbian officials to be more flexible in negotiations over the future of the breakaway province, officials said.

Frank Wisner also said that U.N.-brokered negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina over the contested region, should "continue and intensify,"
according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's office.

Wisner visited Belgrade a day after top ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders met in Vienna, Austria, for the first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's status.

During the talks, both sides remained entrenched in their opposing

In his meetings with Serbian officials, Wisner urged "Belgrade to play a constructive role in the ongoing negotiations to ensure a peaceful, democratic Kosovo that protects the rights of all its residents," a U.S.
Embassy statement said.

Kostunica reiterated that Serbia "would not allow that a new Albanian state be created on 15 percent of its territory," the statement from the premier's office said.

It quoted Kostunica as praising the "readiness to talk," and insisting that Serbia was ready to grant a "truly substantial autonomy" for Kosovo.

Wisner was expected to relay a similar message to ethnic Albanian negotiators when he visits Kosovo. A date has not been announced, but he will probably visit the province within the next couple of days.

Western envoys hope to finish the negotiations by the end of 2006.

The most likely outcome of the talks is some form of independence for Kosovo, on the condition Kosovo can protect Serbs and other minorities in the ethnic Albanian majority province.

Serbia has no authority over the province it considers the cradle of its statehood and religion. The United Nations has administered Kosovo since a
1999 NATO air war to halt a Serb crackdown on separatist Albanians.


Serbia, Kosovo Leaders Meet, Remain Split on Independence

Leaders of the Balkan republic and its restive, majority Albanian province meet in Vienna and part without a negotiated solution.

By Alissa J. Rubin
Times Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES TIMES (USA)

July 25, 2006

VIENNA - Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo reluctantly met face to face Monday for the first time since NATO bombs drove Serbian forces out of the Albanian majority province in 1999.

A United Nations special envoy called the meeting, in the officially neutral city of Vienna, to make progress on the Gordian knot of Kosovo's future
status: The province's ethnic majority wants full independence and Serbia opposes division.

Post-meeting statements made clear that the two sides are far apart and cast doubt on a negotiated solution. Kosovo Albanians and Serbs refused to appear together at the news conference after the meeting; each held their own briefing with their own interpreters.

Asked if there was any sign of the way to a future deal between the two sides, U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, said, "No, I would be lying if I said so."

"They are as far apart as possible: Belgrade would accept everything but independence, while Kosovo Albanians will accept nothing but the independence," Ahtisaari said.

A participant in the meeting described it as "monologues" by each side without any back and forth about their ideas.

Kosovo, the Albanian-majority province of Serbia, has been governed as a U.N. protectorate since 1999 when NATO forced out Serbian troops.

There have been a number of meetings in Vienna with expert teams from both sides but this is the first that involved leaders of the two groups, including Serbian President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and Kosovo's prime minister, Agim Ceku, a former rebel commander who fought the Serbs.

More meetings are slated for August and September when Ahtisaari plans to give a report and recommendation for next steps to the U.N. Security Council.

Western powers as well as the U.N. are pushing for a deal by year's end; they want to free up some of the 17,000 NATO troops on patrol there and avoid a renewal of violence in the territory. Russia, a veto holder on the Security Council and a longtime backer of Serbia, has cautioned against any "artificial timetable."

In the absence of any agreement, the U.N. - in consultation with the other Western powers and Russia - will almost certainly impose an arrangement in which Kosovo wins conditional independence. Draft proposals by the European Union include a European special representative to oversee international civilian assistance and financial aid. Kosovo would have to satisfy a number of criteria before it could win full independence, according to diplomats who asked not to be named because the proposals are still taking shape.

The arrangement bears many similarities to the one that the EU fashioned for Bosnia, which has had mixed results. Bosnia remains a fragile country, with a barely functional government and a marginally viable economy.

Sensitive issues for the Serbs in Kosovo's potential independence include how to guarantee safety for the Serbian minority, which has felt isolated and beleaguered. Many experts believe that if Kosovo becomes independent, many of the more than 100,000 Serbs will leave the province, adding to the republic of Serbia's economic troubles.

Serbian forces launched a brutal crackdown in the province in 1999, killing 10,000 Kosovo Albanians and forcing about 800,000 to flee. However, when ethnic Albanians returned with NATO backing, reprisal killings and ethnic cleansing of Serbs ensued, which forced nearly half of the Serbian population to flee the province.

Kosovo is of symbolic and political importance to Serbia because it is the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as the home of some of the church's most venerated monasteries. Kosovo is often described as the Serbian Jerusalem, and some Serbian media describe its loss as on a par with the Christians' loss of the Holy Land.

The symbolic potency of Kosovo puts Serbian politicians in a bind. Even if they see independence as inevitable, they do not want to be part of making the deal that gives the province away.

"It is the case that they better not put their signature on that if they want to have a future for themselves or their political party," said Ljiljana Smajlovic, the editor of Politika, a prominent daily in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. "But I don't think they are saying it just for form's sake. They are now saying they will give Kosovo independence in all but name and so far the Albanians haven't moved at all." She noted that other countries too are uncomfortable with the precedent of having the U.N.
unilaterally redraw borders.

However, the Kosovo Albanians are unequivocal that only independence is acceptable.

"The presence of Serbia in Kosovo was always violent and the sacrifice of the Albanian people is the best testimony to the arguments for the independence of the country," said Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who is now a prominent politician.

"And another argument is the genocide which was exercised by the state of Serbia in Kosovo. In the future, Serbia and Kosova may be very good neighbors but they cannot live under the same roof."


Kosovo Leaders Confer in Vienna, but Little Progress Is Seen

By NICHOLAS WOOD
NEW YORK TIMES (USA)
July 25, 2006

VIENNA, July 24 - Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders met here on Monday to discuss the future of Kosovo, but after six months of apparently fruitless negotiations by lesser officials, there was little sign of even the smallest compromise.

Kosovo, a province of Serbia, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO's 78-day bombing campaign wrested it from Serbian control. The bombing followed a violent crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in the province.

The talks are being held with the intention of returning Kosovo to local governance, resolving one of the region's most deep-rooted conflicts. But the divide is enormous: the ethnic Albanians, who are the majority in Kosovo, want it to become an independent state, and the Serbs want the region re-integrated into Serbia.

The five Western governments that are the main sponsors of the talks said they were determined to impose a solution, if necessary.

Speaking at a news conference after the one-day meeting, Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland who is the United Nations mediator in charge of the process, said there had no been no progress. "I would be lying if I were to say so," he said.

But he stressed that the main purpose of the meeting had been for both sides to explain their positions before future negotiations.

So far this year, the teams from both sides have sought common ground on how to govern Kosovo without considering the critical issue of sovereignty.

The meeting on Monday brought President Boris Tadic of Serbia and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica face to face with their Kosovo Albanian counterparts, Fatmir Sejdiu and Agim Ceku, for the first time in an official setting.

The meeting put the Serbian leaders in the awkward position of speaking with former members of the rebel group that fought the Serbian forces in 1999, the Kosovo Liberation Army, including Mr. Ceku. Serbian politicians accuse him of being a war criminal. Though government troops either killed ethnic Albanians or forced them from their homes in 1999, the major violence and intimidation in recent years has been against the Serbian minority.

Unless an agreement takes form by the autumn, diplomats here expect the United Nations to start work on a plan that could be imposed, one likely to involve some form of independent state, they say.

Representatives on both sides appeared stiff on Monday as they were led to opposite sides of a U-shaped table in a meeting room in the Niederösterreich Palace.

Within hours, each team was briefing journalists, who were not permitted to attend the talks, on what they said was the failure of the opposing group to engage properly in the process.

Mr. Kostunica's delegation left the palace before a scheduled lunch at which Albanian and Serbian officials were to sit side by side, though Mr. Tadic remained.

With each group of politicians under substantial pressure from their constituents not to be seen as giving in to the other, the process appeared to be more about restating entrenched positions than engaging in negotiations.

Mr. Sejdiu said the ethnic Albanians' desire for an independent Kosovo was "the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of our position."

Mr. Kostunica warned that it was "not possible to find a even a single precedent in European history which could be used as the argument to deprive Serbia of 15 percent of its territory."

Despite the rigid positions taken by both sides, there is a sense here of this being a significant moment, although one induced by international officials. Mr. Ahtisaari confirmed that he had asked the delegates responsible for the earlier rounds of talks to cancel their summer vacations and continue working in August.

At the same time the Contact Group - made up of France, Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and Russia - issued a statement urging both sides to come to a negotiated settlement by the end of the year. If all attempts at negotiations fail, the United Nations Security Council is likely to draw up a resolution that imposes a solution on both sides, United Nations officials said. "The process must be brought to a close," the Contact Group's announcement read.


Gap between Serbs, Albanians in Kosovo still unbridged

Jul 24, 2006, 19:00 GMT
MONSTERS AND CRITICS (UK)

Vienna - The gap between the positions of Serbs and ethnic Albanians on the question of the future status of Kosovo remained unbridged at a UN-brokered summit in Vienna on Monday.

Sources in Vienna described the task by United Nations chief envoy Martti Ahtisaari of reconciling the two sides" diametrically-opposed views as "mission impossible."

Serbia"s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica stressed that Belgrade would not accept "that 15 per cent of its territory would be used to form a second state," while Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku called for "complete independence" for the Kosovo, a province formally a part of Serbia but under UN administration since 1999 Kosovo War.

Taking part in the first direct top-level talks since 1999 were, in addition to Kostunica and Ceku, Serbian President Boris Tadic and Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu. Each side had about 15 delegates.

Ahtisaari, who called the summit, said he stuck to the plan to find a political solution by the end of this year as set by the six- nation Contact Group on Kosovo (Britain, the United States, Russia, Germany, Italy and France).

According to Ahtisaari, there would be intensive negotiations starting in the first week of August dealing with "technical questions" that could be discussed without the need for a prior solution to the status issue.

These would include the questions of decentralization, minority rights, economic issues and protection of cultural sites. He said he wanted to press ahead with them quickly, as results in these areas could have a positive effect on the status question because mutual trust would be strengthened.

Ahtisaari called on Serbia to take part in efforts to improve living conditions in Kosovo. Creating a multiethnic society in the south Serbian province was not possible if Belgrade refused to cooperate, he warned.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who also was present, pressed both sides for "more realism and commitment" and urged them to take the present opportunity "in the interests of the Kosovo people and stability in the region."

It was clear that there was little prospect of a breakthrough even before talks began. Kostunica said at the weekend: "The sooner the dangerous idea is forgotten of setting up a new state on the territory of Serbia, the better for us all, and certainly also for the lasting stability of the region as a whole."


Essential autonomy is best for Kosovo-Metohija

Source: Government of Serbia
Date: 24 Jul 2006

Vienna, July 24, 2006 - Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said today that the best possible solution for Kosovo-Metohija's status is essential autonomy as proposed by Belgrade in Vienna negotiations today.

In a joint press conference of Serbian delegation members in Vienna, Kostunica said that the Serbian side presented arguments backing the essential autonomy of the province whereas the Albanian side has not given any valid argument to support the province's independence, apart from their own wish for Kosovo-Metohija to be independent.

According to Kostunica, independence would mean violation of a series of valid rules, such as international law, UN Charter, Helsinki Charter and UN Security Council's Resolution 1244.

The solution for Kosovo-Metohija should be sought according to European standards and values that are simple, said Kostunica and stressed that problems are solved through different degrees of autonomy, and not by breaking up states.

He stressed that the breaking up of states is not in line with European standards and noted that the main principle of the Contact Group is that the solution must be found through an agreement.

If all these principles are violated, stability of the region is then put into question and a dangerous precedent is thus created for other parts of Europe and the world, stressed the Serbian Prime Minister.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said that the talks today were good, but noted that two essentially different stands of Kosovo-Metohija's future were presented.

Tadic said that he did not expect the differences to be of smaller scope, but noted that it is good that Belgrade's position was made clear, which is a basic presumption for us to start negotiations leading to a compromise.

We are ready to participate in further negotiations in risk reduction, stressed the Serbian President and recalled that the position of Serbian negotiators is based on basic international principles, international law and a vision of the future of the Balkans that should contribute to stability and not disintegration.

Tadic also said that the Serbian side will participate in August activities concerning decentralisation and protection of churches and monasteries.

The Serbian President expressed expectation that essential progress will be made concerning decentralisation, protection of churches and human lives, especially lives of Serbs and members of other non-Albanian communities.

Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Draskovic expressed satisfaction with the way Belgrade presented its stands in Vienna today and highlighted that the arguments presented by Serbian authorities concerning the future of Kosovo-Metohija cannot be disputed as they are European arguments based on compromise.

UN special envoy for Kosovo-Metohija talks Martti Ahtisaari said after the talks that the talks on the future status of Kosovo-Metohija today did not finish successfully as the stands of Belgrade and Pristina are diametrically opposed.


Entrenched Positions

24 July 2006

TRANSITIONS ONLINE (CZECH REPUBLIC)
COMMENTARY

High-level talks on the future of the Serbian province are starting. That is itself a big achievement, perhaps the only one we should expect for months to come.

The diplomats who run the final-status negotiations on Kosovo achieved a big success simply by managing to get the prime ministers and presidents of Serbia and Kosovo to talk to each other for the first time since the province became a UN protectorate in 1999. At the same time, the meeting in Vienna today, 24 July, also violates a basic tenet of diplomacy: talk only if there's something to talk about. In Kosovo, there's a lot to talk about but little point in doing so, except in the generic sense of keeping communications channels open. Process, not results, is the word of the day.
Nevertheless, the meeting is a welcome development amid the sterile posturing that has become the default activity on both sides in this intractable conflict over sovereignty.

The Kosovo problem is simple and straightforward, but it has only complex and tangled solutions that are bound to leave one, or both, parties deeply unhappy, not to speak of its regional repercussions. Serbs and Albanians, represented by the government in Belgrade and the de-facto administration in Pristina, both claim the same piece of land. They are implacably opposed to each other and have a track record of antagonism and conflict. Indeed, if the canard of "age-old hatreds" ever applied anywhere in the Balkans, it would be Kosovo - though even here the enmity isn't older than a hundred years.

THE POWER OF FACT

The Albanians have the power of fact on their side: they form the overwhelming majority of the province's population and have been in charge ever since NATO entered as peacekeepers following its air assault on Serbia in 1999. The Serbs have something equally strong on their side:

long-standing notions and principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, plus (though this is important mainly for propaganda purposes) history, to some extent.

Both parties appeal to abstract principles of international relations - self-determination and sovereignty - that, in this case, turn out to be incompatible; neither law nor state practice seem to offer any procedure how these appeals can be adjudicated. The nuanced devices available to socialist Yugoslavia's constitutional drafters, who made Kosovo an "autonomous province" of Serbia rather than a full-blown republic, since Albanians constituted a nationality (a group with a homeland outside the Yugoslav
federation) rather than a nation, appear quaint in today's circumstances. In a world of nation states, self-determination means achieving one's own state, with all the trappings that come with it: a seat at the UN, a proper flag and anthem, and nobody else's personnel controlling one's borders. The Albanians won't settle for anything less. If everyone else was allowed to leave Yugoslavia, they say, why not us? Moreover, they have lived under UN trusteeship for seven years and didn't like one bit of it, other than the fact that it allowed them to run their own affairs. Any sort of circumscribed sovereignty will simply not do.

Belgrade, by contrast, is willing to settle for considerably less than its appeals to sovereignty and the inviolability of borders might suggest, since even much less is still much more than it has got now. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a constitutional lawyer, would be happy with anything that left Kosovo formally part of Serbia, pretty much regardless of conditions on the ground. Upholding a legal fiction is more important for the survival of his beleaguered government than any material reality.

SQUARING THE CIRCLE

It is difficult to see a way out of the conundrum. Perhaps it is true that looking at the problem through a nation-state lens only distorts the picture: perhaps we really do need innovative forms of statehood to deal with the problem. "We are a hammer all right," a U.S. commander said during NATO's air campaign against Serbia, "but not every problem we deal with is a nail." The metaphor may well apply to sovereignty claims as well: perhaps the international community needs to chuck the hammer and rummage some more in the toolbox. But the fact of the matter is that Kosovo's overwhelming majority is not interested in depleted, nuanced forms of post-modern sovereignty. They want their own state. If everyone else got theirs, why shouldn't they?

But if all major international players seemed to agree with that fundamental assessment, there are indications that this has now been tempered with the recognition that the blow for Serbia needs to be softened for any solution to take hold. The Europeans have found it difficult enough to deal with Kostunica; they have little appetite for whatever nationalist might replace him should his government fall over "losing" Kosovo (though the person who really lost it was Slobodan Milosevic). Brussels has been giving rather conciliatory, if confusing and inconsistent, signals over Serbia's obligation to cooperate with the Yugoslav war-crime tribunal in recent weeks. This could be an indication that the Europeans don't want to push too many buttons all at the same time, and Kosovo is simply the more pressing problem right now.

Indeed, it looks increasingly likely that short-term concerns on the part of the "international community" will win out (as they usually do) in the Kosovo endgame. It is a fairly safe bet that the prospect of Albanian displeasure is more worrying to policymakers in Brussels and New York and Washington than Serbian disaffection, especially if Serbia can be given some concessions on other fronts. There are all sorts of rather unpleasant problems Kosovo's Albanians could produce for the "international community,"
such as showing up the powerlessness of its overstretched peacekeepers in protecting local Serbs in Kosovo.

But very belatedly, Belgrade seems to be catching on to the game that the Kosovars are playing: it is now insistently warning that Kosovo's independence would lead to "regional instability," code whose real meaning is well understood in neighboring Bosnia.

FALLING DOMINOES?

In the last month or so, the Bosnian Serb leadership, which tends to listen to Belgrade, has mounted concerted action to block the work of Bosnia's common institutions. The prime minister of Bosnia's Republika Srpska entity, Milorad Dodik, has floated the idea of a referendum on the Montenegrin model, an idea he is certain to resurrect should Kosovo become independent against Belgrade's wishes. It is hard not to see a connection between Kostunica's friendly advice to his counterparts in the West and the rumblings coming out of Bosnia's Serb republic. By creating an equally serious, equally short-term challenge to the current peace and quiet of the Balkans, Kostunica may think he can trump the Kosovars. Even if it fails, this strategy may still succeed in delaying a final decision on Kosovo, giving his government breathing space for a few more months. In a world of short-term thinkers, Kostunica's time horizon may be the shortest of them all.

The problems thrown up by Belgrade, however, may yet prove to be more serious than they appear now. Viewed through the Bosnian lens, independence for Kosovo is bad one way or another. Should Kosovo become independent in its current borders, it sets a precedent for ethnic territories that were not republics in the former Yugoslavia to secede: a template for the Bosnian Serbs to follow. Should Kosovo be partitioned, with the northern tip going to Serbia, it would set a precedent for borders being adjusted to accommodate claims for ethnic self-determination: even worse for a unified Bosnia, especially since the Serbs may yet table the idea that Serbia should somehow be compensated for its "loss" of Kosovo.

The diplomats in Vienna have a thankless job. It is difficult to see any negotiated solution emerging from the talks. The blow of imposing a solution on Belgrade will probably have to be softened, for example by offering some sort of special status to Kosovo's northern part, abutting Serbia, where many of its Serbian minority are concentrated. Indeed, Kosovo's Serbs are almost certainly the biggest losers in all this, not least because Belgrade does not seem to be overly interested in their fate other than as a bargaining chip. The Kosovo government has an obligation to protect them, and the international community must offer robust guarantees to ensure the survival of Serb communities in Kosovo.

Whatever direction today's talks, and the talks that will have to follow, are taking, the remainder of this year will offer little comfort to a traumatized place just emerging from a decade of war.


Serbian president rejects idea of independent Kosovo

25.07.2006
PRAVDA (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence but Belgrade and Kosovo's minority Serb community insist the region is the cradle of Serb nationhood and cannot be given away, Business Day reports.

The talks are the first chance for the Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leadership, whose relations are poisonous at the best of times, to directly exchange their opposing views on the future of the southern Serbian province.

But the Vienna summit of Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers and presidents, mediated by the UN envoy and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, merely underlined the starkly opposing positions on the issue of Kosovo's independence. "The sides are quite apart," he said at the end of the one-day summit, Guardian Unlimited reports.

Six months into UN-mediated talks on the ultimate status of the territory that has been under international rule since Nato bombed the Serbs out of Kosovo in 1999, the presidents and prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo met at a former Habsburg palace to argue about independence for Kosovo.

"Independence is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of our position," Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sejdiu, told the meeting. Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, flatly rejected independence for the southern province.


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