Prague, 22 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The press devotes considerable attention today to recent events in Kosovo, where interethnic violence flared up last week following the drowning deaths of two Albanian boys after allegedly being chased into a river by Serbian youths. The riots that ensued left at least 24 dead, destroyed dozens of homes, churches, and mosques, and led to growing international concern over the status of the UN protectorate.
Press commentary also focuses on Iraq one year after the start (20 March) of the U.S.-led war, with attention focusing in particular on a recent survey of Iraqis' feelings about the future.
The London-based "Financial Times" calls on the international community to "start thinking hard about how to map out a better future" for people living in the UN-administered Kosovo protectorate.
The province has been in limbo since the end of the NATO-led bombing campaign in 1999, and this uncertainty has been "far from satisfactory for either Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which wants outright independence, or its Serb minority, which wants the province to be reattached to Serbia."
The global community must now make every effort to bring the perpetrators of last week's violence to justice, the paper says. But the fault also lies in part with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who bears some blame for the violence for "his recent call for Kosovo to be divided into ethnic cantons."
The "FT" says both Kostunica and any Albanians "trying to create Serb-free zones" must be reminded "that any partition of Kosovo is not an option." To do so "could trigger the fragmentation of multiethnic Macedonia and Bosnia, which the international community has striven to keep intact."
And yet, says the paper, it is "pointless" to continue to deny "the inevitability of independence for Kosovo." The "FT" writes: "There is no prospect that Kosovo's 95-percent ethnic Albanian majority will resubmit to rule by Serbia, and the UN might as well start the long process of trying to get Belgrade to accept this."
THE WASHINGTON POST
"The Washington Post's" Fred Hiatt says the first anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq "focused heavily on the past: mistakes and misjudgments, allegations of deception, weapons that unexpectedly weren't there and the insurgency that unexpectedly was."
While these are all "hugely important" issues, he says the debate must not obscure considerations of what policy is best for Iraq's future.
"A poll conducted last month by Oxford Research International for ABC News, the BBC, Japan's NHK, and Germany's ARD suggests that many Iraqis are [improbably] upbeat." Seventy percent describe their lives as going well, compared to 29 percent. Fifty-seven percent say their lives are better now than before the war, while 19 percent say it is worse.
But Iraqis also do not feel that all is going well, Hiatt says. A majority -- 64 percent -- describe "regaining public security" as the most important priority. Hiatt observes that "no other single priority mattered even to a tenth of the population."
This "thirst for order" is entirely understandable. Yet the U.S. administration "infuriates its opponents here and in Europe by refusing to acknowledge either the immensity of these challenges or how unprepared the United States was to meet them."
Ultimately, the victims of a U.S. foreign policy failure in Iraq would be Iraqis themselves, Hiatt says. "[Chaos] and civil war spilling throughout the region" is a real possibility, should the United States abandon its efforts.
Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute says last week's interethnic violence in Kosovo is "a grim reminder of the unfinished business in the Balkans."
Kosovo remains officially a part of Serbia, "despite the fact that nobody ... believes that the province could ever return to Belgrade's control." Kosovo is somewhat independent, "apart from the fact that nobody recognizes [its] legal status."
And all the parties "pay lip service to the concept of a multiethnic Kosovo, while the bulk of the evicted Serbs continue to languish in refugee camps outside the province." It was this widespread "air of unreality which was shattered by the riots of last week."
Eyal says the blame for the violence belongs partly to a campaign by extremist ethnic Albanian nationalists, and partly to the NATO force that runs the international presence on the ground. The military alliance "has simply grown too complacent. It has ignored repeated intelligence warnings about a rising level of tension between Kosovo's communities" and its contingency plans have grown outdated.
The ethnic Albanian goal of independence for Kosovo is not a realistic option, Eyal suggests. The UN mandate that assigns Kosovo to Serbia "cannot be changed, if only because the Russians and the Chinese [have] reiterated their opposition to the province's independence. Splitting the territory between Albanians and Serbs is equally impossible, without risking further bloodshed."
So, he says, NATO "is destined to continue with its current mandate, despite the fact that it defies both logic and realities. [The] least that can be expected is that NATO will perform its job better."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
Marcus Tanner, Balkans editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, says the latest violence in Kosovo calls into question Serbia's vision of its future. As Richard Holbrooke, author of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, has repeatedly warned, Serbia can either choose to regain Kosovo, or it can aspire to eventual EU membership. It cannot do both.
Holbrooke said if the Serbs choose Kosovo, "they will lose both Kosovo and Europe. If they choose Europe the whole of the Balkans will eventually get into the EU." But Tanner says Belgrade's politicians cannot heed this warning, for "[all] fear electoral oblivion if they even hint that Kosovo, Serbia's 'holy land,' is really lost."
With the latest violence last week, which killed at least 24 people, Serbia now "risks being branded again as unstable, a little scary, and not somewhere in which anyone would want to invest. And if, as is expected, a Serbian ultranationalist, a member of a party pledged to reverse all the territorial losses of the 1990s, wins the forthcoming presidential election, Europe's sense of foreboding will increase."
Major regional and international powers "must re-engage in Kosovo and cajole the parties to talk and compromise. They must set a date for Kosovo's independence and work out how Serbian autonomy might be guaranteed effectively, or [announce] some plausible alternative, even if that means partition on ethnic lines. The current uncertainty cannot continue."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
Misha Glenny of SEE Change 2004, a group promoting regional cooperation in the Balkans, says "there are solutions at hand" for the region. But these require "swift and decisive action on the part of the international community."
The most intractable issues in Kosovo remain the divided city of Mitrovica, the return of refugees, the security of Serbian enclaves throughout Kosovo, and the social and economic crises throughout the province."
Glenny says the "northern, Serbian part of [Mitrovica] would join its neighboring municipality, which has a Serbian majority, to ensure that Serbs felt secure." Many moderates have publicly supported this plan, he says.
Next comes the issue of the return of refugees. Glenny says a "lasting solution" would be for the Kosovo government" to be granted the means and responsibility to ensure security for minorities throughout the province. A mob cannot be held accountable; a government can. Protecting minorities effectively should be the main standard to meet before the world could address the issue of Kosovo's status."
Finally, he says, "there will be no stability in Kosovo without a credible economic development strategy, whatever the final status. The complete absence of ideas on how to achieve this has possibly been the biggest failure of the UN administration in Kosovo."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
An editorial today addresses relations between Washington and Islamabad in light of reports that Pakistani forces were pursuing a high-value U.S. target along the border with Afghanistan, allegedly Al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
There is no clearer way for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to demonstrate his commitment to cooperating with the United States, the paper says -- short of capturing Osama bin Laden himself. But Washington also "needs to insist on an end to the ambiguous relations between Pakistan and the Taliban, which have allowed fighters to cross the Afghan border and attack American troops."
On a recent trip to the region, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell "lavished undeserved praise upon [Musharraf] for democratic progress." The paper says: "Such declarations diminish American credibility as a consistent force for democracy. Behind a constitutional facade, Musharraf rules as a military dictator, accountable to no civilian authority and basing his power on Pakistan's armed forces."
The paper says Powell "struck a somewhat surreal note in Islamabad when he announced that Washington was preparing to designate Pakistan a 'major non-NATO ally,' easing access to military sales."
Pakistan's efforts against Al-Qaeda "are welcome," it says, but it is "excessive to offer even a symbolic promotion to one of America's least reliable allies."