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Yugoslavia: Djindjic Remarks Anger EU, Bosnia, But Please Kosovar Albanians

  • Jolyon Naegele

Recent remarks by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic calling for a revision of borders in the Balkans has angered the European Union as well as Bosnian and Montenegrin leaders. But as RFE/RL reports, Djindjic's comments are being welcomed in Kosovo.

Prague, 10 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The latest issue of the German news weekly "Der Spiegel," due to be published tomorrow, quotes Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic as saying that if Kosovo's Albanians continue to insist on independence, Belgrade will ask for a new Dayton conference to determine new borders in the Balkans.

The remark plays into the hands of pro-independence Kosovar Albanians as well as Bosnian Serb nationalists who have threatened to secede Republika Srpska from Bosnia and merge with Serbia should the international community grant Kosovo independent status.

Reactions from across the region and from Brussels came swift and in many cases severe. EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana, who is due to tour Balkan capitals next week, let his spokeswoman Cristina Gallach make the first response. "The opposition of the European Union is very clear. There is no link between the status of Kosovo and the status of any of the sovereign and independent countries of the region. Mr. Solana has said on many occasions the time when borders in the Balkans were decided in conferences is long gone."

And Gallach rejected any suggestion that Kosovo's status could be resolved at the expense of its neighbors. "It should also be made clear to all the leaders of the region that the status of Kosovo will not be resolved at the expense of any of its internationally recognized neighbors and the European Union will not accept proposals or suggestions that go along this line."

The response was equally strong in Sarajevo. Sulejman Tihic, the Bosniak (Muslim) member of the collective presidency, said: "It is an irresponsible statement, especially since it was made by someone in a state function, by someone who doesn't even want good for his own nation. It's as if we had not been occupied from 1992 on [until 1995].

Bosnia-Herzegovina's foreign minister, Zlatko Lagumdzija, likewise denounced Djindjic's remarks: "Those who divided Bosnia are now attacking the population with a project that I reject. Attempts to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina are condemned to failure. If anyone wants to take territory from Bosnia-Herzegovina, they'll have to resort to an aggressive attack."

The Bosnian Foreign Ministry issued a statement branding Djindjic's statements as "poisonous for the continuance of the process of good neighborly cooperation in the region." It adds: "linking Kosovo's status with Bosnia-Herzegovina's status as a UN member country and internationally recognized state is nothing more than an attempt to revive the old projects on territory and trading in human lives in the Balkans that have already been condemned at The Hague."

Djindjic has not spoken to the press since the "Der Spiegel" interview. His cabinet in Belgrade, however, has issued a statement saying that the Serbian government respects the Dayton accords guaranteeing the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but expects that Serbia will receive similar guarantees for all of its territory, including Kosovo.

The deputy chairwoman of Djindjic's Democratic Party of Serbia, Gordana Colic, sought to defuse the situation: "The message of the agreement is respect for Bosnian [territorial] integrity. As prime minister of Serbia [Djindjic] has concluded that Serbia deserves the same [as Bosnia] -- that is, respect for integrity of the territory of the Republic of Serbia."

But although Serbia claims Kosovo as a province, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which is the basis for the NATO-led occupation and UN administration of the province, refers to Kosovo as a "Yugoslav province" rather than a province of Serbia. Moreover, senior members of the UN Mission in Kosovo have said in recent months it is not realistic for Serbian authorities to think that Kosovo will ever again be a part of Serbia or any sort of common state with Serbia and Montenegro.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is tasked with the issues of Kosovo and southern Serbia, remarked that the international community is obliged to respect the territorial integrity of every state. "In any case, resolution of the status of Kosovo -- or, as some say, 'the final status' -- truly won't bring anything good, either to Serbian society or to the Republic of Serbia. Some think that only Albanians or only Belgrade will decide Kosovo's status. Rather it will be decided by the international community, Pristina, Belgrade, the Albanians of Kosovo and the Serbs of Kosovo."

In fact, the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, has repeatedly stated that only the UN Security Council can decide on Kosovo's final status.

However, Covic echoes Steiner's words in saying the status will only be discussed once the standards described in Resolution 1244 are fulfilled. But so far, Covic says, not a single standard has been met.

The speaker of the assembly in Serbia's northern Vojvodina province, Nenad Canak, warned that revising the Dayton accords and calling for merging Republika Srpska with Serbia raises the danger of revising earlier international agreements -- including the 1920 Trianon treaty, which among other things transferred what is now Vojvodina from Hungary to Serbia. As Canak said, "If we proceed with such thoughts, nothing will be left intact in Southeastern Europe."

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said it is impossible to either change the Dayton Accords or link it to other problems in the region. "I think that the Dayton accords have given stability while ending the war in Bosnia, and I think that in Bosnia we have a relatively stable situation which has deepened security and political stability in the region. I don't believe in revising the Dayton accords."

Reaction in Kosovo ranges from cautious optimism to upbeat welcome. Kosovo's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said Djindjic's proposal is confusing. He said it remains unclear how the Serbian authorities would react if Kosovar Albanian leaders were to accept the offer. "We'd evaluate modifications, and to the extent that this statement [by Djindjic] is sincere, this is a positive step forward."

Former Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) commander Ramush Haradinaj -- the leader of the third-largest party in Kosovo, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, and an outspoken advocate of independence for Kosovo -- takes an even more positive view. Haradinaj said Djindjic's statement marks the most courageous expression to date of Belgrade's policy toward the province. "We call on Mr. Djindjic to examine our offer -- a declaration of Kosovo's independence. Similarly, the state of Kosovo must recognize its neighboring countries, including Serbia. Such an act would lead to stability for all of us."

But judging by remarks from Brussels and Sarajevo, Solana will be issuing stern warnings next week in Pristina and Belgrade not to tamper with the region's delicate stability.