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Serbia and Montenegro: Belgrade's Parliament Approves Declaration On Kosovo

The Serbian parliament yesterday passed a declaration calling Kosovo an indivisible part of the republic, despite the province's international administration. The declaration comes ahead of talks between Belgrade and Pristina expected next month. But analysts say the move is aimed more at scoring political points at home than at laying out a strategy ahead of the talks. Prague, 28 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Nebojsa Covic, Serbian deputy prime minister and the government's envoy on Kosovo, told lawmakers ahead of yesterday's vote the declaration would prove to the world that Serbia was united on the issue of Kosovo.

"If today we pass the declaration on Kosovo and Metohija, we will be able to explain to the whole world that the most prominent personalities in both the state and the church have agreed on the principles of the struggle for a multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural society," Covic said.

In a rare show of unity between the ruling DOS coalition and the opposition, parliament approved the declaration unanimously, with only a few abstentions.

The declaration said Kosovo would be offered substantial autonomy, but only after a functioning, multiethnic democracy has been established.

It also criticized the United Nations and NATO troops in the province for failing to implement the UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo and secure safety for non-Albanians and the return of refugees.

Kosovo has been administered as a de facto UN protectorate since 1999, when a NATO military intervention drove Serbian forces out of the province following the Serbs' crackdown on the majority ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo's pro-independence ethnic Albanian leaders reacted angrily to the declaration even before yesterday's vote.

Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said the declaration "might mean something to Serbia and Montenegro, but not to Kosovo."

Hashim Thaci, the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and a former Kosovo Liberation Army leader, said that "Kosovo will be independent, regardless of Belgrade's position."

"Certainly, there should be contact between the authorities in Pristina and other neighboring countries -- but only as neighbors, and on the same equal footing. And at the same time, Belgrade cannot stop the process of determining the final status of Kosovo. Kosovo will be independent regardless of the position of Belgrade or any other factors," Thaci said.

Following intense international pressure, the two sides have agreed to talks on technical matters -- but not on the province's final status. The dialogue had initially been expected to begin this summer, but has since been delayed.

Rexhepi now says the declaration could put off the talks even further. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, in turn, has accused Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership of constantly seeking reasons for postponing dialogue.

Gordana Igric, an expert in the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting says the declaration is intended solely for domestic political purposes.

Igric said that with tensions rising on Serbia's domestic political scene, politicians have decided once again to use the Kosovo issue to score political points.

"The Serbian political scene is now really boiling. There is a lot of squabbling. There are some scandals inside the government and a lot of pressure for everybody now to prove that they are unified, because it's possible that early elections will come. And if early elections are organized, I do not see a single politician in Serbia who would be really able to say publicly that they would address the Kosovo issue differently," Igric says.

Igric notes that the declaration uses patriotic language and references to the church similar to those used during the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The difference, she says, is that now there is no real wave of nationalism as there was in Milosevic's time.

She says that regardless of how much it may have angered ethnic Albanian politicians, the declaration will have little, if any, impact on the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The final date of the talks, she adds, will probably only be scheduled under pressure from the UN. Right now it appears as though neither side is ready to talk:

"I don't think this declaration can have any impact on the talks. First, what they did is a political statement; they really did not start preparing a serious strategy for negotiations. In that sense, they did not make any impact and say 'We would like to do this and this' about issues like car plates, or similar things that the negotiations will be about. Secondly, if they wanted to target the international community, I think they missed the point. Because the UN will actually decide the final status of Kosovo -- and they repeat that every day, including the new UN administrator -- not Belgrade or Pristina," Igric says.

The new head of the UN administration in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, earlier this week announced that talks between Belgrade and Pristina could start in mid-September.

(RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report.)