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U.S. Believes an Independent Kosovo Would Not Set Precedent

21 March 2007

Potential separation from Serbia not a signal for other breakaway regions

This article is the first in a series on the future of Kosovo

Washington -- The United States believes that if Kosovo is separated from Serbia under a U.N. plan, the move would not set a precedent for other breakaway regions, particularly the “frozen conflicts” near the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.

“Kosovo is not a precedent for any other situation,” the State Department’s Daniel Fried told reporters March 12. Fried is assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari is negotiating a settlement on the future status of Kosovo, a province of Serbia that has been administered by the United Nations since the 1999 NATO war. The international intervention ended human rights abuses by Yugoslav Serb security forces but also put on hold a drive for independence by Kosovo separatists. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians seek independence. Serbia and ethnic Serbs within Kosovo strongly oppose independence. Ahtisaari is expected to make his recommendation to the U.N. Security Council by the end of March. (See related article.)

Serbia’s prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, warned March 11 that independence for Kosovo would be a “dangerous precedent” for the United Nations. Russian diplomats also have warned that an independent Kosovo would set a precedent for breakaway regions, such as Abkhazia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Transnistria, in and around the former Soviet Union. Except for Chechnya, these disputes are known as “frozen conflicts” because their outcomes have remained unresolved since the early 1990s.

It is the diplomatic position of the United States that Kosovo represents a unique situation, with an unprecedented level of involvement by the U.N. Security Council and NATO. Between 1993 and 1999, the U.N. Security Council issued seven resolutions on Kosovo, four of them in 1998 when Serbian forces responded to an armed uprising by uprooting Kosovo Albanian communities, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees and killing at least 2,000 Albanians. NATO’s 78-day military campaign required a consensus decision by all 19 member nations at the time, and 17,000 NATO-led forces continue performing peacekeeping duties in Kosovo today, primarily protecting minority Serb communities.

“There are a great many parts of the world that have issues between minority and majority communities,” Fried told reporters at the State Department during a March 12 roundtable talk. “There are a great many parts of the world that have separatist communities.”

“There is no situation anywhere in the world that bears a resemblance to Kosovo,” Fried said. “There is no place where the U.N. has been administering for seven -- now close to eight -- years. There is no case where NATO was forced to intervene to stop a massive process of ethnic cleansing.” (See related article.)

U.S. officials also stress that the current, democratically elected government is not responsible for the actions of Slobodan Milosevic, who was the Yugoslav president at the time of the intervention in Kosovo. Milosevic was voted out of office in October 2000. When he attempted to manipulate voting results, a nonviolent democratic uprising removed him from power. The following year, he was transferred to the Netherlands to face a war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. He died there, in prison, in 2006.

“AN IDEAL SET OF CHOICES IS NO LONGER ATTAINABLE”

“The choices the international community faces in Kosovo are not an ideal set of choices,” Fried said. “An ideal set of choices is no longer attainable. The ideal set of choices went away as Yugoslavia broke up. And, as I said [during a recent visit] in Belgrade, Yugoslavia didn’t break up so much as it was murdered by extreme nationalists.”

“Kosovo,” he added, “is not a precedent for any other area, whether that’s Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya, Transnistria, Corsica or Texas.”  In U.S. history, Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836 and was an independent republic for nine years before joining the United States.

In a news conference March 10 in Vienna, Austria, Ahtisaari said his Kosovo proposal “is a realistic compromise, ensuring the functionality of Kosovo, and at the same time, catering to the need of the Kosovo Serb community and other minority communities.”

He stressed that a permanent peace settlement will create economic benefits for Kosovo and its surrounding region. “No one dares invest in a country the status of which is unsure,” he said, citing what he called “totally … an unacceptable level” of unemployment.

Ahtisaari also said those who claim Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent are voicing “unnecessary concern. … You can make a debating point, but that’s as far as it goes.”

The U.N. envoy said he has dealt with numerous conflicts in his diplomatic career, and each conflict has its own unique circumstances and level of involvement by the international community.

“There is very little unity in these conflicts,” Ahtisaari said. He said he wished every conflict could be resolved by the U.N. Security Council. However, he added, “as long as you have five permanent members of the council, one is enough to say, ‘Sorry, I don’t agree.’”

Ahtisaari’s negotiations began in late 2005 at the direction of then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. (See related story.)

In January 2006, the International Contact Group for Kosovo – made up of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- released a statement on the future of Kosovo. The statement ruled out a return of Kosovo to full Serbian control as well as any partition of Kosovo, or any union of Kosovo with any other country, or part of another country.

See also Southeast Europe and Balkans.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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