27 January 2007

UN envoy's Kosovo proposal angers Albanian majority
Released : Saturday, January 27, 2007 1:30 AM

SERBIA: Self-rule without independence will not satisfy either community in the divided province, writes Daniel McLaughlin in Mitrovica

Fear and frustration united the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in Kosovo yesterday, after a United Nations envoy unveiled controversial plans for the region's future.
Martti Ahtisaari's proposal to grant Kosovo broad self-rule without explicitly declaring it "independent" irked the province's 90 per cent Albanian majority, most of whom dread a situation in which Serbia can continue to exert influence over their lives.
The former Finnish president also sent a shiver of fear through Kosovo's Serbs, who live in well-guarded enclaves where few people trust the region's ethnic Albanian government, and many believe only closer ties to Belgrade will guarantee their safety.
"We couldn't live here under Serb control," said Xhevdet Ferizi (50), near the bridge over the Ibar river that separates the Albanian and Serb sides of Mitrovica. "It would be better to be dead than back with the Serbs."
Mitrovica huddles between hills scarred by a vast lead mine, and the sprawling, skeletal remains of the decrepit smelter that processed the metal. Of the 120,000 people who survive here, 17,000 are Serb - and all of them live north of the river.
Serb and Albanian lived together until 1998, when Slobodan Milosevic dispatched troops and paramilitaries to crush Kosovo's separatist rebels, in a campaign that claimed some 10,000 Albanian lives before Nato bombing ended it in 1999.
Subsequent reprisals forced thousands of Serbs to flee their homes, and many came to northern Mitrovica.
Sporadic clashes between the communities continued, and the town's divisions became entrenched; ethnic riots that killed at least eight people and injured hundreds in 2004 only rekindled mutual fear and suspicion.
Mitrovica is quiet now, the foreign soldiers guarding the bridge wear soft berets and stand at ease, and the streets are busy on both sides of the Ibar.
But Serbs are loath to cross to the south, and many Albanians suspect their neighbours would try to break away from an independent Kosovo and join Serbia proper.
"If the UN gives us special relations with Belgrade, then that would be good. But if we are cut off from Serbia, perhaps we will have to leave ourselves," said Nikola (24), a student in northern Mitrovica.
His neck still bears a long scar from the day in 2001 when an Albanian threw a grenade at him while he was playing basketball in the street.
"The Albanians could use terror attacks against us, put a bomb in a bar or cafe," he said. "How could I ever trust them?"
About 750km away in Vienna, Mr Ahtisaari was telling the Contact Group of US, British, French, German, Italian and Russian officials that Kosovo should be allowed to join bodies like the UN and World Bank, but remain under international political and military supervision as it moves through an unspecified transition period to full independence.
Diplomats also revealed that Mr Ahtisaari advocated broad autonomy for Kosovo's Serb communities, protection for their ancient Orthodox churches and monasteries, and the right to receive money from the government in Belgrade, provided it is channelled through the central administration in the regional capital, Pristina.
Washington and the EU fear the absence from a UN resolution of the key word - "independence" - could anger Kosovo Albanians and prompt them to declare independence unilaterally; but they are also loath to bolster nationalist power in Belgrade - and anger its key ally Russia - by stripping Serbia of a large chunk of territory that it considers its historical heartland.
"If Pristina unilaterally declares independence, then some Serbs here will probably declare independence," said Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Serb leader in northern Mitrovica, who supports a unified Kosovo and co-operation between its communities.
"That would be a legitimate response . . . and would have some support, perhaps tacitly, from Belgrade," he added.
Across the river on the Albanian side of Mitrovica, council chief executive officer Sadri Ferati said nothing could now stop Kosovo becoming independent.
"If it is not stated in the UN resolution, one option is to declare independence unilaterally," he said. "Then each country would recognise us, one by one, just as they did at first with Slovenia and Croatia.
"Kosovo will not be part of Serbia, that is the most important thing. If we have to declare independence, so be it - it may take one, two, or three years, but eventually international supervision will end. Now we are just talking about the terminology - Kosovo is moving towards full independence."
Mr Ahtisaari is due to present his plan next week in Belgrade - where a government has yet to be formed after last week's elections - and in Kosovo, where patience is wearing thin and security is being beefed up.
"There is no need for another delay," Kosovo's prime minister Agim Ceku said yesterday. "The Contact Group assured us before that there wouldn't be another delay."
Copyright 2007 Irish Times. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.