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Serbia And Montenegro: Kostunica Seeks EU Support For Kosovo ‘Cantonization’ Plan

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> Brussels, 23 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister of Serbia and Montenegro, said during a visit to Brussels today he is canvassing EU support for a plan to decentralize power in Kosovo.

Speaking after a meeting with Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, Kostunica said the "cantonization" of Kosovo would provide guarantees for the rights of Serbs and other minorities.

"Actually, that idea is not new and it is not only something that originated in Serbia and Montenegro. [It] is an idea that for the first time [was] mentioned by the Council of Europe -- how through different forms of autonomy, decentralization, one may support [the] further democratization of [Kosovo], and [protect the rights] of the Serbian and non-Albanian community. It is for the sake of human rights," Kostunica said.

Kostunica said decentralization of power is necessary to prevent further violence. He said the riots in Kosovo last week were pre-planned "efforts at ethnic cleansing." Some 28 people, mostly Serbs, were killed in the clashes and hundreds of others were injured.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he believes the violence in Kosovo was "orchestrated" by extremist Albanian groups.

In Brussels, Kostunica said his "cantonization" plans would not affect Kosovo's final status.

Emma Udwin, an EU spokeswoman, said the bloc has no formal position on the plan, but added the EU could not support anything that undermined the current UN administration in the province.

"We could not be in favor of anything that ran counter to the proper implementation of [UN Security Council] Resolution 1244, which governs Kosovo's status for the moment, and that implies the authority of UNMIK [the UN Mission in Kosovo] running throughout the province of Kosovo. Obviously, in the light of events last week, there will be some discussion about how best to resolve the differences between ethnic communities in Kosovo, but we have no change in our policies at present," Udwin said.

The EU supports the UN-sponsored "standards before status" approach, under which authorities in Kosovo must set up functioning democratic institutions based on the rule of law and establish a dialogue with Belgrade before the future status of the province can be decided. EU officials have earlier suggested a status review is possible in mid-2005.

Although EU foreign ministers yesterday condemned the violence in Kosovo, they said in a statement that the province still has a "future in Europe."

Today, Prodi repeated that message, saying a "European-level partnership" is the only viable long-term solution for peace. However, he said, local leaders must first agree to work together.

"I urge [Albanian and Serb leaders] to find together a political solution, we offer, we offer a real long-[term] political solution and I asked Prime Minister Kostunica to work together to get [there]," Prodi said.

Kostunica today said his government will follow a strong pro-European orientation. He also noted that as the enlarged EU will share a border with Serbia, stability in the country is of utmost importance to the bloc.

"Actually, that idea is not new and it is not only something that originated in Serbia and Montenegro."
The EU has told all five western Balkan countries they are guaranteed future membership. Croatia and Macedonia have already applied for candidate status. EU relations with Serbia and Montenegro remain strained, however, as the country's new government has not committed itself unequivocally to cooperation with the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Today, Kostunica said he will cooperate with the tribunal, but appeared to set out certain conditions.

"This government is committed to its international obligations, among them is, of course, cooperation with The Hague tribunal, for sure. That cooperation may develop, go on in different ways and through different dynamics. That can be proven by the way other countries in the region [have] cooperated with The Hague tribunal. We are just looking for the forms that will not destabilize institutions in Serbia and that is all," Kostunica said.

Kostunica said similar latitude was given to other countries in the past, pointing to Croatia was an example.

An EU official, speaking privately, said full cooperation with ICTY is essential for closer ties between the EU and Serbia. The official said the bloc will delay a "feasibility study" planned for late this month because of what he called Serbia's lack of cooperation with the tribunal.

The study is a necessary step before Serbia can sign a Stability and Association Agreement with the EU, which in turn is a prerequisite for eventual candidate status.