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Yugoslavia: Commission Recommends Limited Independence For Kosovo

An independent international commission has presented a detailed report on Kosovo to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele says the report is surprising in that it recommends a form of limited independence for the province.

Prague, 24 Oct 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Independent International Commission on Kosovo says "conditional independence" is the best possible option for Kosovo's future.

In a report submitted to the UN yesterday, the commission defined conditional independence as expanding the autonomy promised by UN Security Council resolution 1244 to make Kosovo effectively self-governing outside of the Yugoslav federation, but within an international framework. The commission has 12 members and is led by South African judge Richard Goldstone.

The report's conclusion differs from existing UN policy on the province. The commission says that resolution 1244, passed in June 1999, "is reaching the end of its useful life." The resolution recognized Kosovo's status as a province of Serbia under NATO- led occupation and UN administration.

But the report says it's unrealistic to expect Kosovo to remain part of Serbia since Kosovo's Albanian majority would never accept living under Serbian rule.

The report says the international community should take the initial responsibility for guaranteeing security and protecting minority rights. Kosovo's international community, as well as its majority and minority populations, would also have to agree.

Significantly, the report says "the refusal of the Serbian government to engage in dialogue should not constitute a veto on this process." The report was drawn up before Yugoslav elections last month that led to the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbian politicians have yet to respond to the report. But Kosovar Albanian politicians were quick to welcome it.

A top aid to Democratic Party of Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci, Bardhyl Mahmuti, says:

"We welcome every proposal which leads toward independence. This kind of conditionality was used with former Yugoslav republics."

Mahmuti also welcomes the commission's call for protecting minorities and for the continued presence of international military and police forces in Kosovo.

The founder and president of the Forum of Albanian Intellectuals, Rexhep Qosja, was supportive of the report but a bit more skeptical of the concept of "conditional independence."

"We still don't know what conditional independence means. But we sure know what independence means."

The president of the parliamentary party, Bajram Kosumi says it is still much too early for Kosovo and its neighbors, including Serbia, to discuss the issue of Kosovo's status which, he says -- echoing the commission report -- should happen after general elections and further stabilization of Kosovo.

The president of Kosovo's Liberal Center Party Naim Malloku agrees. He says the recommendations are encouraging because "it is important for Kosovars to know that someone is thinking about improving Kosovo's position."

The Independent International Commission was formed last year at the initiative of Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and was endorsed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In addition to Persson, the commission includes Palestinian politician Hanan Ashwari, Russian Ambassador Oleg Grinevsky, Canadian analyst Michael Ignatieff, French political scientist Jacques Rupnik, and British academic Mary Kaldor, among others. Members were not appointed by any governmental or non-governmental organization. The commission's findings are non-binding.

The report notes the U.S. and Yugoslav governments refused to cooperate. The U.S. State Department made support conditional on the commission's restricting its investigation to human rights abuses perpetrated by Yugoslavia. Belgrade said one or more members had an "anti-Serb" bias.

Apart from conditional independence, the report describes four other possibilities for Kosovo's future. But the report suggests all these possibilities are flawed.

It says Kosovo could remain an international protectorate. Or, it says, the "de facto" partition of the province could be formalized by letting Serbia annex the majority-Serb territory north of the Ibar river. Kosovo could also attain what the commission called "full independence." Lastly, Kosovo could gain autonomy within a democratic Yugoslavia.

The commission says all of the people of Kosovo must be given the chance to determine their political future. It says Kosovar officials will inevitably call for a referendum on the province's political future. And the commission says that calling for a referendum is legitimate and that the UN administration should permit this "as expeditiously as is prudent."

The commission presumes the result of a referendum would be in favor of some form of independence for the province. But it concludes that "full, unlimited and unconditional independence is impossible" because an independent Kosovo would lack the key property of statehood -- the means to defend itself against external attack. The report says Kosovo remains dependent on the NATO-led KFOR military presence on the ground and on NATO air and sea power.

The commission is due to visit Kosovo next week to present its findings.

The nearly 300-page report concludes that last year's NATO intervention in Kosovo, "far from opening up a new era of humanitarian intervention," teaches instead "a valuable lesson of skepticism and caution."

In the commission's words, "sometimes, and Kosovo is such an instance, the use of military force may become necessary to defend human rights -- but the grounds for its use in international law urgently needs clarification and the tactics and rules of engagement for its use need to be improved."

The report says the NATO military intervention was illegal because it did not receive prior approval from the UN Security Council but was legitimate and justified because all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted. It also says "the intervention had the effect of liberating the majority population of Kosovo from a long period of oppression under Serbian rule."

The Goldstone report comes just days after the private, multinational Brussels-based International Crisis Group, or ICG, recommended that, over the next year, the international community should encourage Belgrade and the Kosovar Albanians to lay the foundations for reasonable mutual engagement. The ICG mentioned specifically the avoidance of inflammatory rhetoric and actions by both sides, and the exploration of confidence-building measures and dialogue that will facilitate more serious diplomatic engagement at the proper time.

The ICG said Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, the Kosovar Albanians and the international community should focus on good faith implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1244, and avoid efforts to prejudge any potential option for a final political settlement of Kosovo's status.