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Europe

Kosovo Remains Fragile, Five Years Later

Five years ago, United Nations troops marched into Kosovo, ending the last of the Balkan wars in the 1990s. Though democratic progress has been made, recent violence has shown the peace is tenuous.

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The attacks on Serb churches in March in Kosovo surprised Europe.

The images could have come from television footage from the late 1990s.

In mid-March, pictures of burning Serbian churches and clashes between ethnic Albanians and the Serb minority in Kosovo were beamed around the world once again. More than 19 people died in the unrest, and NATO rushed to send more troops to stock up the KFOR international peacekeeping force.

The flare-up was a reminder of how tenuous the peace won in Kosovo five years ago on June 10 has been. In 1998, Serb paramilitary troops battled ethnic Albanian Kosovars, who demanded independence from Serbia. The spiraling conflict eventually resulted in bombing attacks on Serbian targets by NATO planes.

The subsequent peace agreement between the two sides led a majority of the Serb population in Kosovo to leave. Today there are 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and only about 100,000 Serbs.

Economy not yet on track

The tensions between the Serb minority in the region and ethnic Albanians remain on simmer. Despite the best efforts of the U.N. and the EU, much of the Kosovar economy remains in the hands of mobsters.

"I think there has been progress in the political area. We have had local elections, we have a government and a Parliament. In other areas there has been little progress," said German European Parliamentarian Doris Pack.

The European community seems interested in seeing the area flourish. European Officials like foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana make regular visits to Kosovo. The United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) gives Brussels regular reports. In April, the German parliament agreed to extend the mandate of the 3,670 troops taking part in the NATO peacekeeping mission, the largest contribution from any single country.

Of the €35 billion invested in the Balkan region in the last five years, €6.3 billion has gone through the EU-sponsored Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. On recent trips, Solana has urged Kosovo to take more responsibility for its economic future.

Since the end of the fighting in 1999, the European Union has helped set up 100 banks, helped switched the currency over to the Euro and introduced new business laws. But Pack said hurdles remain.

"Privatization is being held up," said Pack, among other reasons because matters of ownership have yet to be cleared up. "And the ability of the two sides to live together is still up in the air," he said.

Nowhere was that more clear than in the recent clashes in the capital, Pristina. The sudden violence was proof that the local international bodies do not have as good a handle on the situation as they might have thought.

Solana responded by appointing an EU representative to Kosovo who will be on the lookout for future such blow-ups.

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