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Debating Kosovo's Future

Five years after the war, Kosovo remains troubled by ethnic tensions. While Albanians would like to become independent, Serbs want more participation from Belgrade to protect their rights.

Has the recent violence hurt calls for independence?

Has the recent violence hurt calls for independence?

Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova on Tuesday called for swift independence from Serbia for the UN-controlled province after last week's violent clashes. But UN officials are demanding that democratic standards have to be introduced before that can happen.

During last week's bloodshed, 28 people were killed, 870 injured and thousands, mainly ethnic Serbs, were displaced from the homes. NATO has blamed extremist Albanians for the violence and Rugova promised a thorough investigation as well as actions to remedy the problem.

EU-Balkan Gespräche in Porta Carras Ibrahim Rugova Kosovo Präsident

Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova

But UN officials in Kosovo expressed their disappointment that Rugova (photo) and others had not explicitly condemned the attacks on Serbs.

"To my great astonishment and disappointment, something was left out, namely the condemnation of the violence against the Serbs," said Harri Holkeri, who heads the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, also condemned the clashes during a visit to Kosovo on Monday. "What happened last week, orchestrated and organized by extremist factions in the Albanian community, is unacceptable," he said.

War began five years ago

Kosovo-Albaner auf der Flucht 1999

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians fled the province in 1999.

Five years ago, on March 24, 1999, NATO began air raids on Yugoslavia with the goal of preventing a catastrophe by forcing Slobodan Milosevic to end military and police actions against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Almost 80 days after the bombing began, the Yugoslav president finally gave in. International peacekeeping troops arrived in Kosovo, which was put under UN control. Slowly, democratic institutions were set up. Last year, the governments in Serbia and Kosovo began to talk to each other again.

Wahlen in Kosovo

Ethnic Albanians waiting to vote in the 2001 elections.

A lot has happened since then: Kosovo elected a new president and a parliament, a government was formed, and the province got its own judiciary and police force. The second parliamentary elections are scheduled for the fall.

The unclear future status of Kosovo is the biggest problem for ethnic Albanians. After the war, the UN adopted resolution 1244, which only called for a "substantial autonomy for the people of Kosovo" and put the province under international control. That's not enough for the Albanians, who want complete independence from Belgrade.

But the "decent and appropriate treatment of smaller ethnic groups" is one democratic standard UN officials have demanded before agreeing to discuss the province's future status. The first to do so was Michael Steiner, who headed UNMIK until last July.

He defined eight criteria, including functioning governmental institutions, freedom of movement, a functioning economy, as well as a working judiciary and police force. Those who fled from Kosovo in 1999 would have to be allowed back too.

Negotiations possible in 2005

UN-Administrator Harri Holkeri

Harri Holkeri

Steiner's successor, Harri Holkeri (photo) fine-tuned the standards last December. If these standards can be reached by mid-2005, the international community has promised negotiations about Kosovo's status.

Serbia's government and the Serbs in Kosovo fear that these standards and the deadline have made independence inevitable. Albanians in Kosovo, on the other hand, are happy that a date has been set. "It's a great achievement as UN resolution 1244 didn't set a date," Kosovo's Premier Bajram Rexhepi said.

To ensure peaceful coexistence between Albanians and Serbs, UNMIK's current efforts don't suffice, according to some.

"We have to try harder to correct our past mistakes," said Faruk Spahija, the mayor of Mitrovica. "It's possible to create a climate of peace in Kosovo. A lot more has to be done to adhere to the standards Kosovo has been presented with."

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