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Yugoslavia: Kosovars Concerned By Kostunica's Comments

Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, is intent on preserving what is left of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. But as RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports, Kosovo's Albanians are not interested in returning to the Yugoslav fold and are upset with the international community's speed in lifting sanctions. Prague, 10 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovar Albanian politicians are concerned over how quickly the international community is lifting sanctions against Yugoslavia following President Vojislav Kostunica's rapid rise to power last week.

European Community foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg yesterday, agreed to lift sanctions on oil exports to Yugoslavia and granted permission to Yugoslav airlines (JAT) to resume flights to EU member states.

During the Yugoslav election campaign, Kosovar Albanians said a victory for Kostunica would inevitably result in diminished international support for an independent Kosovo. However, they remain convinced that independence for Kosovo is the only long-term solution for the province.

Among the first to comment on Kostunica's accession to power was Ibrahim Rugova, who heads the moderate Democratic League of Kosovo. He expresses tacit approval of the changes in Belgrade, but warns that Serbian nationalism continues to pose a threat to the province.

"We support democratic processes everywhere, including in Serbia. But the (Yugoslav) regime and the Serbian opposition until now have shared the same position on Kosovo."

Kostunica, a professor of constitutional law, describes himself as both a democrat and a nationalist. But he denies he favors a so-called "Greater Serbia."

He told French television yesterday his nationalism is tied to his interest in the future of his country and in helping its people overcome their misery.

But an analysis of his past indicates that he was -- at least at one time -- a strong Serb nationalist. Kostunica was expelled from the Belgrade University law school's faculty in 1974 for openly opposing a constitutional amendment -- sponsored by Tito -- that would have granted Kosovo autonomous status within Serbia.

Rugova's concern about Kostunica's views was borne out in the French television interview when Kostunica said he rejected independence for Kosovo as "impossible." Kostunica said the Yugoslav Constitution does not permit independence for Kosovo -- or for Montenegro (Serbia's sister republic in federal Yugoslavia) -- because he says these two areas form an integral part of the federal republic of Yugoslavia.

Rather, Kostunica offers the prospect of establishing a democratic regime with Montenegro and Kosovo. This is close to what the international community has called for but is likely to be seen as "too little too late" by Kosovo's Albanians.

Kosovar Albanians also say they are alarmed that the West is moving to ease sanctions without first ensuring the release of 1,000 Kosovars languishing in Serbian prisons. Several thousand Kosovar Albanians are also still missing since the Serbian repression of Kosovo during NATO airstrikes last year.

In the past few days, Serbian authorities have released from prison four Dutchmen, two Britons, two Canadians, and a Serbian journalist who had all been incarcerated by the Milosevic government on charges or terrorism and espionage. However, the authorities have yet to release Kosovar Albanian human rights activist and pediatrician Flora Brovina or any of the hundreds of other Kosovar Albanians jailed since spring of 1999.

A member of Kosovo's interim administration, Rexhep Qosja, is among those expressing disappointment: "Personally, I was sure that the European Union would not lift the Milosevic sanctions so fast. It is an illusion to think Serbia will be a democratic state soon or easily. I understand the international community's desire to help Kostunica toward democracy, but they must know that Milosevic's structures are still strong and very much present."

The secretary of Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party, Hajredin Kuqi, is similar disappointed by the EU's decision on sanctions: "It was a hasty decision to lift sanctions because there is still no proof that Kostunica is moving toward democracy. Time will show that this decision will be a handicap for democratic forces. If Kostunica wants to prove his democratic orientation, he can do so by releasing the prisoners and by his stance on the Kosovo question."

A former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), Ramush Haradinaj, who now heads the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, was similarly upset.

"I understand the reason for lifting the sanctions is humanitarian, but in this case the Albanian prisoners should have been released and the fate of the missing should have been investigated first. We are disappointed with the EU's decision."

In an apparent attempt to reassure Kosovar Albanians and other nations in the Balkans that Milosevic's downfall does not signal NATO's departure from the region, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson issued a statement today saying the alliance looks forward to "enhanced cooperation" in implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia and UN Resolution 1244 in Kosovo.

UN Security Council resolution 1244 enabled NATO-led forces to occupy the Kosovo and the UN to administer the province while maintaining that Kosovo is "de jure" part of Yugoslavia.

Robertson reiterated NATO remains fully committed to promoting security and stability in the Balkans. In his words, "We will continue to fulfill our mandate to guarantee security in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo through the NATO-led operations, SFOR and KFOR."