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Kosovo Report: August 25, 1999

25 August 1999, Number 29, Volume 1

WHAT CANTONIZATION DOES TRAJKOVIC WANT? Kosovo Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic proposed a cantonization of Kosovo recently, which will be on the agenda of the Kosovo Transitional Council on 25 August.

Trajkovic told RFE/RL that: "We have proposed five cantons: The one of Kosovo/Metohija (including Prishtina and surroundings), the canton of Iber (including Mitrovica and its regions), the canton of Dukagjin (including Klina, Peja, and Istog), the canton of Morava (including Gjilan and its surrounding), and the Sharr canton (including the southern mountain range and Gora [Prizren and south of it]). The proposal of cantonization means that towns represented in [the legislatures of the cantons] and that [these legislatures] will make decisions by consensus. For monasteries, we have asked for extra-territorial status, so that they belong to Serbia or Serbian cantons respectively. We have also asked that the basis of the cantonization be the [ethnic composition of Kosovo] before the NATO bombing. We think that since the Albanians have returned, now also the situation for the return of the Serbs must be created. Our aim is a multi-ethnic Kosovo. Thus cantonization is a means and not our goal. It is a means to create a multi-ethnic Kosovo."

The Serbian government, however, rejected the proposal. But it is not clear whether the rejection is linked to the deep disagreements between Trajkovic and the regime in Belgrade or not. On the other hand, the deputy leader of the Serbian opposition Democratic Party Slobodan Vuksanovic said: "It is a formula, which the difficult situation has imposed on Kosovo. It is the latest attempt to save the Serbian population in Kosovo and to reestablish civilized relations between the different ethnic communities there. Fundamental human rights oblige us to protect any individual citizen, independently from his nationality. We are witnesses to a tragedy happening in Kosovo, which is a threat to the entire region. There are no isolated territories in the region. And that means that a crisis in one part of the Balkans automatically extends into the other parts of the Balkans. This is a danger for all southern European states."

ALBANIAN LEADERS REJECT CANTONIZATION. Albanian reactions to the proposal were negative. Albanian leaders from both Kosovo and Albania fear a partition of Kosovo as a long-term solution. Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova told RFE/RL that: "This is not a [serious] proposal. I am not for it, and it is not going to happen. It is not even good for the Serbs." Thaci's advisor Bilal Sherifi said: "We will not accept any partition of Kosovo."

Sabri Godo, head of the Albanian Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, said that it is not the first time that the Serbs have used such a model: "It is the same game that the Serbs played in Bosnia, and this can not work in Kosovo at all." Godo stressed that "Kosovo is one entity, and the international community must solve the problem of Mitrovica.... Otherwise this will be a dangerous precedent."

Presidential advisor Prec Zogaj said that the demand for a cantonization of Kosovo is "a hidden way of forcing its partition under a democratic cover. Such a cantonization will be a dangerous precedent for all minorities, wherever they are, and lead us away from the road of regional integration."

Opposition leader Sali Berisha also rejected the proposal: "The ethnic communities in Kosovo must live together through a process of justice, in which those who committed crimes against humanity will be held accountable. This will underline that it is necessary for the Albanians to live together with the Serbs and exclude extremists.... An effort to partition Kosovo would be dangerous not only for Kosovo, but for the entire region."

Meanwhile Reuters quoted a western diplomat, who asked not to be named, as saying that "cantonization is an idea that the Serbs began floating last year. I think it originated with the Academy of Sciences in Belgrade.... The idea surfaced from time to time during last year's negotiations, but was never taken seriously. Nothing has changed. We are insisting on the unity and territorial integrity of a multi-ethnic Kosovo."

Bryan Hopkinson, director of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and a former British diplomat in the Balkans, said that "the Serbs have asked for cantons, a sort of partition so Kosovo would be divided up with at least one or two areas where Serbs would control their own municipal council.... One of the enclaves almost certainly would be in the north, above Mitrovica. That would give the Serbs control over much of Kosovo's most valuable mines and mineral rights. For that reason, and because the Serbs no longer hold many cards in Kosovo, cantonization is a non-starter. We don't want to end up with de facto partition here as we did in Bosnia. But if we rule out partition what's left?"

FISCHER AND VEDRINE VISIT KOSOVO. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine visited Prishtina on 24 August. Both politicians met with UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner, KFOR Commander General Sir Mike Jackson, the Prime Minister of the UCK's provisional government Hashim Thaci, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and a delegation of Kosovar Serbs. After the meetings, Fischer and Vedrine gave a press conference at which they said that the issues discussed with both sides were questions of security and the reconstruction of Kosovo.

Vedrine said that KFOR and the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) have done a great deal towards implementing UN Security Council resolution 1244. He said that the key issue is the development of a civilian administration, and that he called on all sides to work towards a solution. He added that one of the main problems that to solve is the exodus of Serbs and Roma from Kosovo, and that he discussed the issue with Thaci and the other delegations.

Vedrine said that Kouchner will present the idea of a cantonization of Kosovo to the Transitional Council for Kosovo tomorrow, but added that he is personally against such a solution, stressing that cantonization is not in accordance with UN resolution 1244.

Fischer addressed the question of the blockade by ethnic Albanians of Russian forces in Rahovec. He said that according to KFOR commander Jackson, negotiations are developing. He expressed optimism that the question will be solved. Fischer underlined that the Albanians now have the greatest responsibility for the development of Kosovo. Fischer and Vedrine also visited Prizren and Mitrovica, which are controlled by German and French soldiers respectively.

BLOCKADE CONTINUES IN RAHOVEC. Thousands of ethnic Albanians have been blocking roads leading into Rahovec with trucks, cars, other vehicles and tents for three days. The Albanians claim that Russian soldiers were involved in crimes committed against the Albanians of Rahovec, and said that they will continue their roadblocks until KFOR agrees to give up plans for deploying Russian troops there. International representatives are resolved to get Russian troops into Rahovec, however, in accordance with an international agreement reached at Helsinki. KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie said: "We are determined to send them. We need the Russians." He added that KFOR does not want to get into a conflict with the local population, and therefore has to talk to them and explain why Russian soldiers must be stationed in that region. He stressed that KFOR is there to protect the Albanians.

Asked whether KFOR will use force, if the Albanians do not give up their blockade, Lavoie said: "There is no doubt that they will go in a few days," but he also said he believed that this can be achieved through talks. State Department Spokesman James Foley also said that the U.S. still expects Russian forces to be deployed there. Foley stressed that he expects the issue to be solved in a peaceful way. Efforts to negotiate failed, however, on 24 August. The protesters, including elderly people, women and children, have announced that the blockade will continue for months, if necessary. Meanwhile, Dutch and German soldiers have begun house-to-house searches for arms in the Serbian part of the town.

UNHCR ALARMED BY SERBS LEAVING KOSOVO. UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said that Kosovo is now virtually free of Serbs, as only 30,000 remain in the province. He added that one refugee exodus is causing the next. He also added that the UNHCR evacuated 28 Serbs from Prizren, who had asked to be moved out of Kosovo after receiving verbal threats.

DID THE YUGOSLAV ARMY USE CHEMICAL WARFARE? Professor Aubin Heyndrickx of the International Reference University Laboratories in Ghent, Belgium, said that Yugoslav forces used chemical weapons during battles with the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). He examined 20 UCK fighters, who had been overcome by poison gas in Serbian shelling attacks. Jane's Defense Weekly, which carried the story, said that chemical gas, including Sarin, has been in use since 1990, when over 4,000 Albanians were poisoned, including many children.