Global Policy Forum

Decisive Round of Kosovo Talks Begins


By William J. Kole

Associated Press
November 26, 2007

Serbia will not give up "an inch" of Kosovo, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Monday as talks on the breakaway province's future entered a critical phase before a U.N. deadline next month. "Serbia will not let an inch of its territory be taken away," a defiant Kostunica told reporters at a final round of negotiations before international mediators report back to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders, meanwhile, said they were committed to gaining independence — making a breakthrough unlikely in the last session of talks, which run through Wednesday in the picturesque Austrian spa town of Baden. The lingering and increasingly bitter deadlock between the rival sides raised the likelihood that Kosovo will follow through on vows to declare independence unilaterally at some point after Dec. 10 if the U.N. Security Council does not sign off on statehood.

Kosovo's leaders demand full independence from Serbia; Belgrade has offered the province broad autonomy but insists it remain part of Serbia. Hashim Thaci, a former ethnic Albanian rebel leader who is Kosovo's incoming new prime minister, told The Associated Press that independence from Serbia was "our past and present and future" and the only solution.

But Thaci insisted that any decision would be taken in close cooperation with the U.S. and the European Union. He said renewed unrest was out of the question. "The process will be very peaceful," he told AP at the castle hotel where this week's talks are being held. "Violence is past for Kosovo. Peace is our future."

Although formally still Serbian territory, the southern province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when the Western military alliance launched an air war that ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger, a member of the international "troika" that also includes mediators from the U.S. and Russia, offered a bleak outlook as the talks got under way. "The troika is offering one last opportunity to seek a negotiated settlement, and I certainly hope both parties seize it," he said. But Ischinger, asked whether he saw any signs to warrant more talks even after Dec. 10, paused and then said: "My answer is no." Kostunica promised to present "fresh new ideas" in a quest for a compromise, and Thaci pledged to be "very flexible and creative." But neither side has made significant concessions, and previous talks have come close to collapse.

"We are offering a treaty of friendship, but Belgrade is threatening with sanctions and blockades and all sorts of repercussions," complained Veton Surroi, a member of the Kosovo delegation. Speculation has grown that Kosovo might declare independence next year. Thaci said earlier Monday that Kosovo was "ready to take our decision" — a reference to a declaration — and said he and other leaders hoped the U.S. and the EU would recognize the province as an independent state soon thereafter.

Critics including Russia — an ally of Serbia that insists the U.N. Security Council have the final say on its future status — contend a unilateral declaration of independence would plunge the Balkans back into turmoil and set a dangerous precedent for separatist movements worldwide. "I hope we are going to achieve an agreement. Otherwise, we are going to have instability in the region," Serbia's President Boris Tadic warned. "We will do everything in our power to avoid this scenario."

The closed-door talks in Baden close out a bitter series of meetings since the collapse earlier this year of a blueprint for eventual independence drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari's plan called for internationally supervised statehood for Kosovo. But Moscow threatened to veto the proposal at the Security Council, prompting the EU, U.S. and Russia to mount a final attempt at a negotiated settlement.

Kosovo's leaders pledged to protect the rights of the province's 100,000-member Serb minority but said they will not budge on their drive for statehood. Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people. "Our main goal is the independence of Kosovo," Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu said as he arrived. "It is our wish, it is our work all the time, it is our guarantee."

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Kosovo
More Information on The Power of the Veto
More Information on The Secretary General: Ban Ki-moon


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