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Mediators in Kosovo: “Serbs are guilty as nation”

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The six-month Vienna talks between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs on such key problems of Kosovo as government decentralization, formation of new Serbian communities, right of ethnic minorities, protection of cultural and religious monuments have given no results. The July 2006 meeting of the Serbian and Kosovo leaders on the future status of Kosovo was also fruitless: the sides were unyielding and irreconcilable.

On Aug 22-25, 2006, the UN Secretary Generals Special Envoy for Kosovo Marti Ahtisaari visited Kosovo with a view to persuade the Albanian leaders of the region into reviewing their approach towards Kosovo decentralization and minority rights protection. It was not known what specific recommendations Ahtisaari came with, but some media reported him to be going to propose increasing the number of Serbian communities, limiting the right of the Kosovo central institutions to revoke the decisions of communal assemblies and providing ethnic minorities with 20 seats (20%) in the regional assembly. The media also reported that the Kosovo authorities also had ideas for how to promote the rights of ethnic minorities. Particularly, they were planning to propose that 10 seats be reserved (presently 20 seats) in the regional assembly, that the laws concerning the rights of minorities be adopted only with the consent of the majority of their deputies and that the protection of the rights of minorities be guaranteed by the future constitution of Kosovo.

The first meeting of Ahtisaari with the Kosovo leaders brought no changes: Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said that the Kosovo Albanians are ready to form only 5 new Serbian communities (while the Serbs want 12 new communities) and to territorially enlarge some mostly Serbian communities without raising their competence. Only after an extraordinary meeting of the Kosovo delegation to the talks with the Serbs and a meeting of Ahtisaari with them, Sejdoiu said that “the talks on Kosovo decentralization are near completion.” Reliable Pristina sources say that Ahtisaari and the Albanian delegates are close to agreeing on the number of new Serbian communities and on their competence and that there is almost no controversy on how cultural and religious monuments will be protected.

Ahtisaari also met with representatives of Kosovo Serbs, who told him that Serbian communities in Kosovo must cover as many Serbs as possible and reaffirmed their Vienna demands for increasing the number of Serbian communities. They said that Serbs are not an ethnic minority but the second biggest national community in Kosovo a community whose status must be determined individually. Ahtisaari urged the Serbs to take part in the work of Kosovos central institutions. The Kosovo Serbs told Ahtisaari that in Vienna their interests were represented by a Belgrade delegation, whom they fully support.

To note, the Serbs show no unanimity: the decentralization proposals by Serbian candidate into the Kosovo assembly Ivanovic are different from the plan of the Serbian delegation to the Vienna talks (for example he suggests forming only 8 new Serbian communities). They in Belgrade say that Ivanovics position and his meetings with the representative of the Kosovo government Agim Ceku are “political manipulations.”

Summing up the results of his Kosovo talks during an Aug 25 press-conference, Ahtisaari said that certain progress has been made in the problems of decentralization and minority rights protection, but much has yet to be done to this end, particularly, to solve “the most delicate” problem Kosovo Mitrovica, a town divided into two ethnic parts Albanian and Serbian. He urged Pristina and Belgrade to be ready for concessions and to seek accord. He said that it is now for Belgrade to take a step forward. However, before starting to determine the status of Kosovo, the sides should solve such “practical” problems as Kosovo decentralization, cultural and religious monuments and minority rights protection. Ahtisaari said that there is no specific deadline for the talks but he is going to complete this process this year. He said that this is not an endless process and the sides will have to come closer at some point

Ahtisaari said that a group of experts will visit Belgrade shortly and he hopes that they in Belgrade will show a positive attitude to these proposals. During the press conference, Ahtisaari dismissed the charges of the Serbian delegation that during his Aug 8 with them he told them that “the Serbs are guilty as a nation.” Particularly, Ahtisaari said that the Belgrade authorities should understand that the Milosevic policy (“historical legacy”) should be “taken into consideration” during the determination of Kosovo status and that “each nation in the world has its guilt and must pay for it.” The Serbian side responded to this by severe criticism of Ahtisaaris mediation. They said that, in fact, this position predetermines the possible decision on Kosovo status and expressed indignation at the fact that the Serbian delegations Aug 10 official protest was left unanswered.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that “Ahtisaari has repeatedly and more or less ambiguously said that there is no need of compromise or talks as there is a decision that must be fulfilled Kosovos independence. And now, to substantiate this decision a decision that is contrary to any international law principle — Ahtisaari has presented arguments: Serbs are guilty as a nation.” The press secretary of the Democracy Party Mladenovic said that Ahtisaaris statement is “scandalous, shameful and racist.” Before him only Hitler dared to speak about the blame of a whole nation. The chairman of the Central Committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia Dacic said that the last statements of Ahtisaari show his partiality and wish “to pass a verdict on a whole nation,” “and this is one more proof that this all is not negotiation but imposition of decision and that he is not a mediator but assistant to the Albanian side.” The Kosovo Serbs also denounced Ahtisaaris statements, while the Kosovo Albanians said they were right.

During the Aug 28, 2006, meeting, attending which were all the leaders of Serbia, the Serbian delegation to the Vienna talks unanimously condemned the position of Ahtisaari and said that it questions his status of UN Special Envoy. The Serbian Orthodox Church also condemned Ahtisaaris statements. Meanwhile, the spokesman of the UN Secretary General Brenden Varma said that Ahtisaari has not exceeded his powers and that Annan confides in him and considers him as “an unbiased mediator.”

To all appearances, Ahtisaari is so actively trying to attain progress in the negotiating process because he is shortly to meet with Contact Group members, on Sept 11 he is to meet with representatives of Balkan countries in Sofia and mid Sept he is to report UN Security Council members on the results and prospects of the Vienna talks and on his vision of Kosovos future status. However, his growing problems with the Serbs may prevent the achievement of mutually beneficial proposals.

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