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Yugoslavia: Council Of Europe Condemns Repression Of Albanians

Strasbourg, 29 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly says it is disturbed at the situation in Kosovo, fearing it could have serious implications for the stability of the Balkan region.

A two hour debate on recent developments in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia focused on the continuing repression of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo and the emergence of armed bands there. Yugoslavia itself was again urged to introduce constitutional and legislative reforms as a precondition for rejoining the European family of democratic nations and the Council of Europe.

The basis of the debate was a report by the assembly's political affairs committee that was eventually adopted with a few amendments. The report specifically expresses support for the principle of Yugoslav territorial integrity, but condemns what it calls "the continued repression of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo that has led to the appearance of armed resistance in Kosovo."

The parliamentary assembly calls for "the instant and full restoration of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the ethnic Albanian population." It specifically says that Yugoslavia should implement the agreement on schooling and education concluded between the leader of the Albanian population in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, and the former president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic.

But the assembly report also addressed itself to the ethnic Albanians who make up around 90 percent of the population in Kosovo. It says the Parliamentary assembly expects their political representatives "immediately and unconditionally to condemn and refrain from the use of violence as a means to resolve the conflict " with the Yugoslav authorities. It also calls on Albania itself to use its influence on the Albanian community in Kosovo to support a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to continue its dialogue with Yugoslavia. Albania is also asked specifically to prevent smuggling into Kosovo of weapons looted during last year's political disturbances in Albania.

Yugoslavia's position in the debate on this report was vigorously presented by a four-man delegation from the Federal assembly -- Ljubisa Ristic, Ivica Dacid, Milan Komnenic and Dusan Maksic. Both Ristic and Komnenic argued that the disturbances in Kosovo were an internal affair of Yugoslavia and would be resolved according to Yugoslav laws.

Komnenic criticized the wording of some parts of the report. He specifically objected to the reference to "the appearance of armed resistance" in Kosovo. Komnenic said these groups should have been referred to as "terrorists". Komnenic criticized the report for not condemning terrorism in Kosovo and said "terrorism is terrorism whether it occurs in Algeria, Corsica, Saudi Arabia or northern Ireland." He said that the Council of Europe should not lend itself to one-sided reporting and dual standards.

A very similar criticism came from the Russian parliamentarian Sergei Glotov ("People's Power") who said: "terrorism is taking place in Kosovo and we expect this assembly to condemn terrorism wherever it appears." Glotov said those behind the disturbances in Kosovo were not seeking autonomy for their region but separatism. Another critic of the resolution was Hungarian Zsolt Nemeth. (Alliance of Young Democrats), who said it could have been more balanced. He noted specifically that although there were references to the armed resistance by ethnic Albanians there were none to the long-standing peaceful resistance. He also regretted any practical suggestions on what the Council of Europe could do.

The absence of suggestions for practical action was also taken up by the Russian parliamentarian Viktor Vishnyakov (Liberal Democracy). He said the report expressed opinions but did not offer any strategy or propose any goal towards which the parliamentary assembly should be aiming in its policy on Kosovo. He warned the assembly that it should learn from Russia's experiences and not strive to give too much independence to minority populations driven by separatist policies.

Several speakers discussed the emergence of armed groups among the Albanian population in Kosovo and said they had introduced a new and dangerous element. The Belgian socialist, Dirk van der Maelen, said there appeared to be three factions in the Kosovo opposition. One group apparently wanted a situation comparable to that of Northern Ireland, another appeared to support the ideas of the intifada and the third was made up of students seeking radical solutions.

There were many calls during the debate for a more active diplomacy on the part of the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international organizations. There were suggestions that the European Union be urged to open an office in Pristina. The Ukrainian delegate Boris Oliynik (Communist Party) suggested a dialogue would be easier if the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were given guest status at the assembly.

The assembly also heard an intervention by Naira Shakhtahtinskaya of Azerbaijan (Independent). She drew parallels between the international reaction to the events in Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh. She said that for a long time the international community had not taken either problem seriously because its interests were elsewhere. She suggested that in such problems the international community took the path of least resistance by treating both sides equally.