- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

As the United Nations tackles crises around the world from North Korea to the Middle East, it cannot ignore the Balkan region — specifically the challenges facing Serbia. Seven years have passed since the U.N. took control of the Serbian province of Kosovo, and it will soon be time to make a permanent decision concerning its indeterminate status.

If the U.N. Security Council decides in favor of Kosovo’s independence, it will have a far-reaching negative effect throughout the region. It will also affect the dialogue between Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq and may strengthen the hand of separatist movements around the world. Such a decision has serious global security concerns, and the United States should carefully consider how a U.N. decision in favor of Kosovar independence will affect countries like Russia, India and Indonesia, all struggling with minority ethnic populations that use terrorism to weaken democratically elected governments.

Serbian President Boris Tadic is pro-Western and wants to formally integrate Serbia into NATO and the European Union. He is willing to meet stringent legal, economic and political requirements to become a permanent member. However, the Kosovo issue makes it difficult for him to continue down a solid, reformist path. Mr. Tadic wants to move Serbia away from its past global isolation to international cooperation. Serbia is committed to working with the Hague Tribunal and seeks to open its growing economy to foreign investment.

The U.N. must not force a decision on Serbia that is unacceptable to its people and democratically elected representatives. A final decision must be a workable compromise and mutually acceptable to Serbia, ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo and the minority Serbian population. If this is not the case, the status quo will continue, or worse, the region will regress to the ethnic cleansing of Serbian Christians in Kosovo. We may also see the rise of Serbian nationalists, whose only platform will be to use Kosovo as a rallying cry at the ballot box.

When Mr. Tadic next visits the U.S., he should be welcomed as a friend by President Bush and congressional leaders, and Serbia should be treated as an ally that needs Western support during a difficult transition. Serbia is trying to turn Slobodan Milosevic and the wars he caused into a distant memory by moving forward and embracing democratic reforms, a commitment to human rights, and economic reforms to help its people reach their full potential.

We must respect Serbia’s territorial integrity as well as the cultural and historical links Kosovo has with Serbia. More importantly, we must recognize the ramifications of Kosovar independence. Anywhere in the world an ethnic or religious majority is turned into a minority, they can face violence and intimidation by a new majority seeking independence. By forcing Serbia to accept Kosovar independence, the U.N. may establish a precedent that can endanger important allies around the world. Radical independence movements that exploit religious minorities and employ terrorism to achieve political goals will be emboldened. These anti-Democratic, fundamentalist religious forces must be curtailed, not rewarded.

As President Tadic noted in a July 19 speech to the North Atlantic Council, “I am here to ask you to work with me and my country to be able to look ahead with certainty to a future in which your security and ours become synonymous. I believe we need each other and I believe that Serbia has a major contribution to make to this end.”

The United Nations can bring the affected parties together to construct a mutually acceptable agreement or force a decision upon Serbia that will not only affect that nation, but Serbia’s integration into Europe, the Balkans, and our allies around the world. It is a process the U.S. will be watching.

Dan Burton of Indiana and Joe Wilson of South Carolina are Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee.

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