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(RFE/RL) PRAGUE, November 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The international community has put off settling Kosovo's final status until shortly after the Serbian elections slated for January 21, 2007. But the delay seems unlikely to affect the outcome, which will in all probability be a conditional independence.

By late 2005, the leadership of the UN, at the recommendation of special envoy Kai Eide, concluded that leaving Kosovo's political status unresolved had become a major source of problems for the province and the region as a whole.

The continuing uncertainty had already played a role in the triggering and spread of violence among some of the ethnic Albanian majority in March 2004 and remained a potential source of future unrest.

The lack of clarity also discouraged the investment necessary to deal with large-scale unemployment and jump-start the economy among people who have often displayed sharp business acumen when provided with a clear legal framework, as Kosovars have done in countries like Croatia, Switzerland, or Germany.

Urged To Be Patient

The decision on Kosovo's final status had been expected by the end of this year, and many Kosovars became apprehensive when the postponement was announced recently. But the delay seems designed only to minimize the effect of the issue on the Serbian vote and is probably unlikely to impact on the substance of the UN's final statement on status.

That would appear to be a form of independence -- which is the only outcome acceptable to the 90 percent Albanian majority -- albeit with a continuing foreign presence to ensure the safety and rights of the minorities, particularly the Serbs, and their cultural institutions. The EU will most likely replace the UN at the heart of the foreign civilian presence, but is expected to have a less powerful mandate than it currently does in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

UN envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari is expected to make his announcement regarding the province's status in February 2007. Numerous media reports have suggested that U.S. and British diplomats have recently reassured Kosovar Albanian leaders that just a little more patience will pay dividends for them and warned them against any hasty moves, such as issuing a widely rumored unilateral declaration of independence if the decision on the final status continues to be delayed. Those media reports indicate that the Kosovars have accepted the assurances of Washington and London.

'Expectations Are High'

Lest anyone forget the stakes involved in finalizing Kosovo's status, Prime Minister Agim Ceku wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" of November 20 that "expectations in Kosovo are high.... It is ready for independence, and now is not the time to stop the clock."

Agim Ceku (epa file photo)

He added that "we need to keep the process of statehood on track. Kosovo needs clarity to complete reforms and to attract vital international investments, but also so that our own people -- and especially our Serb minority -- can escape the debilitating worries and uncertainty and start to build a future. Their home and future are in Kosovo."

Ceku argued that "the biggest problem in the western Balkans is economic malaise.... Belgrade is not interested in investing in the development of Kosovo, and Kosovo is not interested in a political union with Serbia. But we are interested in developing a productive bilateral partnership with Serbia, just as we're doing with our other neighbors."

He believes that "social and economic progress in the region will be the big losers if we don't make the bold step forward to independence. The entire western Balkan region needs a kick start in order to catch the EU train and catch up with the awesome economic growth of our EU-bound neighbors, Romania and Bulgaria."

He noted that "we have a young population and a positive birthrate. Given the shortages in the EU labor market due to negative demographic trends, Kosovo can help fill the void. To do so, we need to retrain our work force. Hence we're now investing in education."

Ceku also reminded Brussels that it cannot afford to forget its goal of "a Europe whole and free." He might have added that it is the question of Euro-Atlantic integration, perhaps more so than even the issue of Kosovo's final status, that will be the determining factor for the peace and prosperity of the entire region.
The Kremlin Looks At Kosovo...And Beyond
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) greets Serbian President Boris Tadic in the Kremlin in November 2005 (TASS)

WILL THE KREMLIN BACK INDEPENDENCE? As the drive for independence grows in the Serbian province of Kosovo, the international community is speculating on how Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, will act. On September 22, Nicholas Whyte, director of the International Crisis Group's Europe Program, gave a briefing on the subject at RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., office. He speculated on what the Kremlin's "price" might be for agreeing to Kosovo's separation from Serbia.


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