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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Panel Reveals Broad Disagreements

This past weekend's Crans Montana forum in Switzerland was dominated by discussion of Kosovo. The high point was a round table on the future of the Balkans attended by many leading figures in the conflict. RFE/RL's Mark Baker writes that there's still much disagreement over the future of the region.

Prague, 30 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- It's been three weeks since the bombing in Kosovo ended and massive efforts are underway to shape the future of the province and of the whole Balkans region.

But serious questions remain unanswered.

Will the Balkans be broken up into ethnically pure mini-states or will one or two larger states be formed to be allied eventually to the European Union?

Will each region or state have its own currency or will there be one currency tied to the euro?

How will funds of the Balkan Stability Pact be spent and who stands to benefit from the reconstruction?

Finally, what lessons will NATO and the international community draw from the use of force in the region? And how will future conflicts be contained?

A high-level Balkans panel tried to resolve these and other issues over the weekend at the Crans Montana forum in Switzerland. Our correspondent writes that although the main actors agreed on the need for peace, their opinions tended to diverge on other matters, such as the political future of the Balkans.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, summarized one viewpoint. He said that after the crisis in Kosovo, no one people or nation could talk about living in its own ethnically pure state.

"What we need are not new boundaries. What we need are not new constitutions or new efforts to create new rights for ethnic communities. But rather, we need civil societies. And I think the effort to create civil societies is something that everyone in the Balkans needs to work harder at doing."

Hill, one of the architects of the failed Rambouillet peace accords, told the forum that international patience with the Balkans is wearing thin and that Kosovo may represent the last time Western governments intervene in the region to fix problems that are not, in truth, vital to their national interests:

"Kosovo could well represent the last major push by the international community to get the Balkans right, to fix the problem. I say this not because there aren't other problems that could emerge in the future. I say this because there is a growing sense in the international community that perhaps the supply of Balkan crises is exceeding the world demand for them. After all, the Balkans are not in center of the universe and there are other problems in the world that need to be tackled."

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said any move to create new states by carving up present-day Yugoslavia would only lead to continued instability. He said NATO and the European Union would suffer a defeat if any of the present borders are changed.

He said his nation, which has had to divert much of its budget to housing Albanian refugees, is looking first to the European Union and the Balkan Stability Pact for emergency assistance.

Moderate Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, however, reiterated his aim is to create an independent and multiethnic Kosovo that would find its place as one more small nation among the many small nations in the region:

"During this period of transition, which has been fixed at about three years or more, we must stabilize Kosovo and create security to give people the opportunity to declare their own future. (In my opinion) the desire of the great majority of people in Kosovo is for an independent, multiethnic, democratic state that is integrated into a larger Europe. An open Kosovo would be a small land like all the other small countries of the region. It would have both an economic and cultural perspective and would be a (civilized) place for both Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians."

He said the immediate priorities include completely demilitarizing Kosovo and establishing a dual U.N.-NATO presence in the region.

Rugova, who was re-elected president last year of Kosovo's Albanians in a vote not recognized by Belgrade, has lost influence in recent months to leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. He has been living for the past two months in Rome at the invitation of the Italian government. He told our correspondent that he will return to Kosovo very soon to begin his duties as president.

Panelists also discussed the role of international aid in repairing damage caused by the NATO air strikes and Serbian security forces. There was broad disagreement on whether Serbia should receive aid while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power. Leading Western nations have said that only humanitarian aid, not money for reconstruction, would be given to a Milosevic-led government.

Russian Balkans envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin emphasized that Kosovo represented a crisis for the entire Balkans and that all states in the region, including Serbia, should share in reconstruction.

He also promoted a Russian diplomatic initiative to call a general European conference to build mechanisms for solving future crises on the European continent. He warned that Kosovo had come close to unleashing World War III.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.