- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Renewed violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo could drag down the entire Balkans if the United States and European powers do not act quickly and forcefully, regional leaders said in a series of interviews this week.

“There has been great progress in our country and in other places, but there cannot be real stability in the Balkans if there is a black hole in Kosovo and Serbia,” Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano told The Washington Times yesterday.

“People in Kosovo have worked hard on institution-building, on reforms, on civil society, but there is a sense of impatience that they don’t know the goal they are working to [reach],” he added.

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda called Monday for a fundamental reassessment of the international approach to Kosovo, which has left the province’s status in limbo five years after the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led war against the former Yugoslavia.

“My sense is that all the parties — in Belgrade and in [the Kosovar provincial capital of] Pristina — feel there has been very little real progress in recent years,” Mr. Dzurinda said. “And that means we have to be ready for a much broader debate on the problem.”

Kosovo, which is overseen by a U.N. authority and an international peacekeeping force of more than 20,000 troops, was rocked earlier this month when 28 persons were killed and more than 600 wounded in the worst communal violence since the 1998-99 war. Most of the bloodshed was blamed on rampaging ethnic-Albanian mobs, with 30 Orthodox churches destroyed and about 3,600 minority Serbs driven from their homes.

The violence stunned U.S. and European Union officials and put in serious doubt a plan to assess Kosovo’s economic, political and social progress by mid-2005 with an eye to making a final judgment of Kosovo’s status.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, one of a string of Western diplomats who have rushed to the region in recent days, said after meeting with Kosovar leaders in Pristina on Monday that “the recent violence is clearly a setback to the vision that we had and also to the hope that we might be able to judge progress in mid-2005.”

EU officials say privately there is little practical hope that Kosovo’s Albanian majority, fiercely wedded to the idea of independence, will ever agree to control from Belgrade.

But Serbian leaders oppose Kosovar independence and say the recent ethnic violence showed that the Serbian minority in the province will never be safe under an Albanian-dominated government.

Even regional leaders cannot agree on the next steps or on whether the United Nations has moved too quickly or too slowly in deciding Kosovo’s fate.

Many in the Balkans fear an independent, Albanian-dominated Kosovo could rekindle ethnic tensions that led to a string of bloody wars in the region throughout the 1990s.

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, in an e-mail interview, appealed for calm in neighboring Kosovo. With its own restive ethnic-Albanian minority, Macedonia has been anxious to keep the unrest from spilling over into its territory.

“Any resolution of [Kosovo’s] final status must include guarantees of the inviolability of the Macedonian borders,” he said.

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