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Experts Say Rejecting Kosovo Plan Likely To Provoke Violence

25 April 2007

Independent experts take part in State Department webchats

Washington -- Kosovo might achieve independence even if Russia blocks such a move in the U.N. Security Council, and the advantages of independence outweigh the risks, say independent observers who took part in online discussions sponsored by the State Department.

The personal opinions of the speakers expressed in the webchats do not reflect official U.S. government policies.

U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, on April 3 presented the U.N. Security Council with his recommendation that Kosovo be granted independence from Serbia but remain supervised and secured by the international community.(See related article.)

About 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million people are ethnic Albanians, and Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since the 1999 Kosovo conflict, in which the international community intervened to halt widespread violence by ruling Yugoslav Serbs.

Russia, which has veto power on the Security Council, has expressed concerns about the Ahtisaari plan, which is supported by the United States and the European Union.

“If the council rejects the Ahtisaari plan, all bets are off. I would expect to see violence from both sides,” Jim O’Brien of the Albright Group, a global strategy firm, said in an April 24 webchat. In the 1990s, O’Brien was a senior State Department official and served as special presidential envoy to the Balkans.

“If the council simply does not vote, then the supporters of the Ahtisaari plan will have to work with the Kosovar authorities to do whatever is necessary to get [Security Council] approval,” O’Brien said. “That might mean implementing part of the plan and returning to the vote sometime in the next months (or early next year, with a new council). I expect trouble in either case.”

Janusz Bugajski, a regional expert, expressed similar concerns in a separate April 24 webchat. A former analyst with Radio Free Europe, Bugajski is director of the New European Democracies Project at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“If President Ahtisaari’s plan for Kosovo’s supervised independence is not accepted by the U.N. Security Council, there are fears that frustration in Kosovo could destabilize the territory, bring down the government, undermine the international peacekeeping mission, and precipitate attacks against the Serbian minority,” Bugajski said.

“This could provoke some kind of intervention by Belgrade,” Bugajski said. “In addition, the lack of clarity over Kosovo’s status and its borders could encourage radicals to start a new insurgency movement to win by conflict what evidently cannot be won by peaceful means.”

O’Brien said the U.S. plan appears to be to bring the matter to a vote in May, when the United States holds the chair of the Security Council. International law is unclear on whether the United Nations has the power to create a new sovereign nation, he said. Instead, the Ahtisaari plan would revoke U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 while mandating continued international supervision. Kosovo would then be free to declare independence.

U.S. Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns has said the United States would recognize Kosovo’s independence under these circumstances. (See related article.)

On the other hand, “we have to be realistic,” O’Brien added. “Kosovo’s legal status may be clarified this year, but many – especially in Serbia – will argue about it for decades, just as the Treaty of Trianon is still disputed.” The 1920 Treaty of Trianon resulted in ethnic Hungarian communities being divided among several nations of Central Europe.

O’Brien said it remains unclear what action Russia will take on the Kosovo independence proposal.

Bugajski said Kosovo’s independence could unfold even without Russian approval. The European Union could approve the provisions of the Ahtisaari plan “and move ahead with its planned mission to replace UNMIK [the United Nations Mission in Kosovo],” Bugajski said. “Alternatively, a new plan could be devised once Kosovo declares independence and is recognized by the EU states, in which case Brussels and Pristina, together with Washington, would negotiate the role and size of the EU mission.”

Independence has advantages for Kosovo, Bugajski said. “Statehood will provide clarity for foreign investors. … The newly established free-trade zone in Southeast Europe will encourage free trade and investment. The enhanced EU mission will provide oversight in the process of legal and structural reform. And Kosovo’s large, young population will enable flexibility and adaptability as the new country finds its niche in the global economy.”

“Serbia’s reaction is pivotal for its own future and for Kosovo’s,” O’Brien said. “Open defiance, such as the establishment of an enclave [of ethnic Serbs] in the north – would be a disaster for Serbia and for Kosovo’s Serbs.”

The most important issue, “is whether Kosovo’s Serbs will accept the status of citizen in a state aiming to becoming a member of the EU and whether Albanians will let them live as citizens,” O’Brien said.

Transcripts of the webchats by Bugajski and O'Brien are available on Webchat Station, which also has information on previous and upcoming webchats.

See also "Independent Kosovo Only Solution, U.S. Envoy Wisner Says," "Draft U.N. Plan Would Protect Minority Groups in Kosovo" and "U.S. Believes an Independent Kosovo Would Not Set Precedent."

For more information on U.S. policies in the region, see Southeast Europe.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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