Kosovars predicts trouble if final status is put on hold

Delay threatens to undermine Ceku government and hand initiative to the hardliners calling for protests and direct action.

By Krenar Gashi in Pristina

Kosovo leaders and analysts are bracing for trouble on the streets if, as seems likely, they are forced to admit that independence is not round the corner as they had predicted.

Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, on 18 June in New York said she wanted a delay of Kosovo's final status resolution.

"It would be better if the decision on Kosovo is not coming out now, if it would be postponed," said Del Ponte, claiming a decision made now would interfere with ICTY plans to arrest more war-crime fugitives.

"What I said, and it is very clear, is postpone until we have Mladic and Karadzic and other fugitives," she added.

The arrest of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, both accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, depends mainly on cooperation with Serbia, as it is widely believed that the fugitives are hiding out in the republic.

Del Ponte's statement comes at a time when it is widely predicted in the diplomatic world that a UN resolution on Kosovo's final status will be postponed.

In the meantime, the Vetevendosje (Self-determination) movement, a radical nationalist movement demanding Kosovo's full and immediate independence, has announced a new protest will take place on 30 June.

Kosovo Albanian leaders and many analysts believe further delay on resolving the final status issue will raise frustrations in Kosovo and bring closer the danger of destabilization.

Most inhabitants of Kosovo, a UN protectorate since 1999, were expecting imminent independence based on a plan drafted by the UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

The plan, recommending independence for Kosovo, albeit supervised by the international community, came after Serbia and Kosovo negotiating teams failed to reach an agreement during several months of talks in Vienna.

Western powers are trying to endorse the plan in a new UN Security Council resolution that would replace the existing UN resolution 1244. However, the US-backed resolution is being blocked by Russia, which opposes Ahtisaari's plan and threatens to veto the resolution if it is put to a vote.

In the meantime, various plans have been aired by Western leaders in an attempt to find a way out of the deadlock. France's new President, Nicolas Sarkozy, suggested a six-month-delay to the status resolution at the recent G8 summit in Germany.

That was contradicted by the US President, George Bush, during his visit in Albania, who insisted the time to solve Kosovo's status had come.

The Kosovo daily Zeri in its Saturday's edition quoted a top diplomat as saying Western countries had drafted a new UN resolution calling for another 120 days of talks between Serbs and Albanians.

But Kosovo's Unity Team, the negotiating team mandated to deal with the status issue, has promptly ruled out further negotiations.

"For Pristina, negotiations are over. Ahtisaari's plan is not negotiable," Agim Ceku, Kosovo's Prime Minister, stated on Monday.

Ceku said he hoped there would be no long-term postponement of final status. "There are continuing attempts of the US and EU countries to achieve a consensus on Kosovo and these international negotiations can take some time," he said.

Any serious postponement, Ceku said, would raise frustrations among people and make them lose their trust in the international community.

Glauk Konjufca, an activist with the nationalist Vetevendosje movement, said if final status was postponed again, people would not only lose confidence in the international community but in Kosovo's politicians.

"The consequences of another delay will be further dissatisfaction among the people who will try to find alternative ways to express this dissatisfaction," said Konjufca. "Protests are an obvious choice," he added.

Local analysts agree, predicting trouble if another postponement is announced. Ilir Mirena, an analyst from Pristina, said: "This frustration could bring about uncontrolled riots, similar to those of March 2004." Anti-Serbian riots that year drove thousands of Serbs from their homes in Kosovo's isolated Serbian enclaves.

Mirena criticized civil society groups for failing to take the initiative in the status process, leaving it all up to the hardliners. "It is scary that the civil society is silent while the only group ready to manage the potential dissatisfaction remains Vetevendosje," he said.

Ilir Dugolli, an analyst from the Kosovar Institute for Research and Policy Development, agreed. Kosovo's leaders risk a severe loss of face if they have to abandon their current stand and agree to restart negotiating with Serbia. "That will cause even bigger frustration," Dugolli predicted.

Krenar Gashi is BIRN Kosovo Editor. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication.