Oct 12, 2005 — By Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - The majority Albanian province of Kosovo can win independence from Serbia in 2006 but it will be conditioned by an "international supervision" proviso, diplomats and analysts say.
While Serbia insists Kosovo can only have autonomy, the West will steer talks due to begin later this year toward a form of "conditional independence," they say. Quite possibly it would be conditioned on accepting a European Union monitoring mission.
"Conditional independence is the central consensus in the international community," said a senior European diplomat. "There's an idea what the outcome will be, but & no blueprint."
Full sovereignty might be offered when democratic standards were achieved and only as Serbia and the states of the western Balkans join the EU over the course of the next decade.
The United Nations took control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of killing 10,000 Albanians in their 1998-99 war with separatist rebels.
Six years later, with the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority clamoring for independence, the major Western powers which intervened in 1999 say U.N.-protectorate status is no longer sustainable. They want a solution in 2006.
Kosovo Albanian waste collector empties a bin in the Kosovo capital Pristina in this October 7, 2005 file photo. The bin is sprayed with the numbers "1244" denoting the United Nations security council resolution that placed the southern Serbian province under U.N. control in 1999. The majority Albanian province of Kosovo can win independence from Serbia in 2006 but it will be conditioned by an "international supervision" proviso, say diplomats and analysts. REUTERS/Hazir Reka
Serbs see Kosovo as their Jerusalem, the cradle of a thousand years of Orthodox Christianity. No Serbian leader has dared to admit it may soon be lost.
But Western governments believe Serbia has already lost Kosovo. The problem is getting Serbs to face up to reality.
"Reintegrating Kosovo into Serbia and Montenegro will not win the Albanians' consent. It could only be achieved and sustained by the use of force, which is why it will not happen," says Judy Batt of the Institute for Security Studies in Paris.
Faced with 1.9 million hostile Albanians, Serbia could not hope to govern Kosovo again, and cannot afford it, she adds.
Kosovo may have been in legal limbo for six years. But under U.N. guidance, it is already a separate state in all but name.
The province has its own institutions of government, police and customs services, monetary system and postal code. The ethnic Albanians, who exceed 90 percent of the population, will not accept a return to Serbian rule in any form.
Yet with the talks only weeks off, Belgrade still insists independence is not negotiable. It is offering executive, legislative and judicial autonomy but insists on sovereignty over Kosovo's foreign affairs, defense and borders.
Few analysts think the U.N. special envoy to be appointed this month can conjure up an easy answer to what the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana, calls "this conundrum."
U.N. officials say Kosovo's interim Albanian powers are as yet unable to guarantee the rights and safety of 100,000 Serbs, ghettoized and targeted for attack since 1999.
So, diplomats say, independence must be tied to concessions to Serbs, including international oversight, most likely in the form of a years-long, veto-wielding, EU-led mission.
"The most obvious analogy would be the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia," said the diplomat, referring to the role created after the war 1992-95 Bosnia war to oversee the reintegration of Serb, Muslims and Croats in one state.
British diplomat Paddy Ashdown is fifth in a series of Bosnian satraps who wielded sweeping powers aimed at herding former enemies toward genuine, multiethnic democracy.
An international security presence would also remain, with a NATO peace force slimmed down from its present 17,000. Solana suggests the EU take over policing, as it did in Macedonia.
THE SUGAR-COATED PILL
Such conditionality could make the eventual amputation of Kosovo — which covers 13 percent of Serbian territory — a little less painful for Serbs, especially if coupled with a promise that the whole region would eventually be under the same European Union roof.
Brussels and Washington hope the prospect of EU and NATO membership over the next decade will be sufficient incentive for Serbia to accept independence, although analysts warn that the political shock to Serbia — where ultranationalism is still a potent force — must not be underestimated.
"Belgrade knows it's going to lose Kosovo," said one Western diplomat. "But it wants the price as high as possible."
Faced with independence, some observers believe Serbia may demand that the province be partitioned at the Ibar River so that its Serb-dominated north remains under Belgrade's wing.
But partition, which would be accompanied by forced population movements and possibly by violent attempts to force further land swaps around Kosovo's Albanian-peopled borderlands, is officially a taboo concept for the West.
Ultimately it is the U.N. Security Council which will decide Kosovo's status, and veto-holding powers China and Russia may have serious reservations about a precedent-setting grant of independence to a single, breakaway ethnic group.
Serbia's acceptance of a divorce, however, would make a veto far less likely, and if there were none, Kosovo would be the first newly independent state since East Timor in 2002.
Reuters News Service