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Kosovo: Kosovar Serbs Seeking Own Entity Amid Political, Security Disputes

  • Jolyon Naegele

The political and security situation in and around Kosovo has worsened in recent days due to a variety of factors. Local Serbian representatives are taking action to unite their municipalities into a Kosovar Serb entity over protests by the UN. Local Albanians are protesting that move, as well as the arrest of four suspected war criminals from among their ranks. And tensions are resurfacing just over the border in southern Serbia following the killing of a policeman, allegedly by Albanian insurgents.

Prague, 27 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic says Kosovo is a "national and a security problem that must be resolved." He equated Kosovo's significance to Belgrade with the current significance of Iraq to the Bush administration.

In an interview with the Frankfurt-based Serbian-language daily "Vesti" today, Djindjic proposes dividing Kosovo into two ethnic communities, Serbian and Albanian, both with equal rights. Djindjic recently began advocating a speedy resolution of Kosovo's future status.

In today's interview, Djindjic said, "Because the international community only responds to crisis situations, my goal has been to establish Kosovo as a politically critical situation, because no one will respond to demands put at the diplomatic level."

Publication of his remarks comes two days after Kosovar Serbs issued a declaration on the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Serbia and formed a union of Serbian-dominated municipalities and areas. Some 300 delegates met in the northern Serbian-controlled town of Zvecan on 25 February and elected a union president and a 15-member executive board.

Ethnic Albanian leaders say they suspect Belgrade is behind the move and that Djindjic's remarks support this view.

The delegates in Zvecan passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Kosovar Serb entity that "would function as an integral part of Serbia." The resolution echoed a recent call by Djindjic for a Serbian mini-state in Kosovo and for the return of the Serbian army and police to help secure Serb-majority areas and to fight organized crime and "terrorism" -- a reference to armed Albanian insurgents.

The apparent aim is to ensure that in the event the province ever gains independence, the Serbian areas, united in an entity, would secede and merge fully with Serbia.

At present, Kosovo is jointly administered by the UN and locally elected representatives. The UN Security Council, in passing Resolution 1244 that ended NATO air strikes four years ago and provided the framework for the postwar administration, described Kosovo as a province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav federation ceased to exist earlier this year and was replaced by a looser confederation, known as Serbia and Montenegro.

The head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Michael Steiner, was quick to denounce the Serbian union of municipalities: "It runs counter to the declared intention, declared by consensus of the international community and of the Security Council, that we should not instrumentalize Kosovo for internal aims."

Steiner continued, "This is an attempt to establish a new parallel structure, based on mono-ethnicity, directly against the multiethnic concept for Kosovo agreed by the international community." He said the new Kosovar Serb executive board has no legal status and that its declared intentions run counter to UN Resolution 1244 and the constitutional framework for Kosovo. And he said it undermines the legitimate interest of the Serbian community in Kosovo as "an act of self-isolation." Steiner warned that "any attempt to assume executive functions will be sanctioned," though he did not specify what sort of sanctions he has in mind.

The European Union is echoing Steiner's remarks. A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana, Cristina Gallach, said there can be no talk of establishing a union of Serbian municipalities in north Kosovo as long as Resolution 1244 is the only valid document on the current status of Kosovo.

The Albanian-dominated Kosovar government has rejected the Kosovar Serb declaration. Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi is calling on the international community to take legal measures against those who adopted the declaration and who are thereby, in his view, endangering Kosovo's constitutional order.

Kosovar Albanian political analyst Ylber Hysa said the Kosovar Serbs are harming their own cause. "Of course, the Kosovar Serbs, by agreeing to be led and represented by Belgrade, have deprived themselves of the right to be a subject and partner in the talks with the Albanians and the other citizens of Kosova. In this aspect, they have made a move that will not help them much because they are becoming day by day increasingly an instrument in the hands of the politicians in Belgrade."

And the president of the Association of Municipalities of Kosovo, Lutfi Haziri, an ethnic Albanian, said the Serbian move foments instability by showing that "they were never interested in a stable and equal Kosova for all its citizens, but continue with the old policy of domination over the majority." What this means, he told the Pristina daily "Koha Ditore" today, is an end to any talk of decentralizing authority in Kosovo. He said, "Kosova is too small to be divided and too big to remain in Serbia."

A member of the leadership of President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, Dragan Jocic, said he is skeptical of the new Serbian union of northern Kosovo municipalities. "I don't envision these three municipalities and the small territory they encompass being advantageous to Serbia proper. That's the territorial principle. However, we also have the ethnic principle according to which a larger portion of [Serbian] people would be living outside the territory than within the territory of the three municipalities. The prime minister's idea about some small territories, a hundred Serbian autonomous areas, would have the same fate as the fate of Knin and Slavonia," Jocic said.

Local Serbs seceded from Croatia in 1991 and formed autonomous regions but were eventually defeated by Croatian forces in 1995 and fled or were expelled.

Zoran Lutovac, a Belgrade political analyst and an adviser to Djindjic, said Djindjic's remarks reflect the need to move forward in resolving the Kosovo issue. "You can't solve it overnight or in a rush or outside of an international framework. Rather, what needs to be done is to respect the goal of a multiethnic Kosovo in such a way that those Serbs who have remained down there [in Kosovo] can stay on and those who fled can return. That's a model that could be used to create a network of Serbian communities which could be united in a set of initiatives enabling these people to live where they used to live," he said.

All this comes just days after the first arrests of Kosovar Albanians on warrants issued by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. All four suspects are former insurgents in the since-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and include a deputy to the Kosovo Assembly, Fatmir Limaj. Their detention has sparked widespread protests, including a massive demonstration by tens of thousands in Pristina yesterday.

Further compounding tensions was the killing last weekend of a Serbian policeman and the wounding of two others by a land mine in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, the scene of an insurgency by ethnic Albanians in 2000 and 2001 that had been resolved by international mediation.