Kosovo: President Says 'We Won't Be Hostage To Any Country'
In Kosovo, the question is no longer if the province will declare independence, but when. In an interview with RFE/RL Pristina bureau chief Arbana Vidishiqi, Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu says no date has been fixed. But, he insists, "the process needs to come to an end as soon as possible."
Sejdiu, attending a ceremonial tree-lighting ceremony this week in the provincial capital, said Kosovo was "only a few days away" from a declaration of independence.
The Kosovo leader has refused to pinpoint a date, and says he will only proceed in coordination with Western supporters.
On other matters, however, he has been crystal clear. No more negotiations -- no matter the consequences. The December 10 deadline set by the United Nations for resolving Kosovo's status has come and gone, and Pristina has firmly rejected any further dialogue on the issue with Serbia.
"Kosovo won't accept additional talks," Sejdiu told RFE/RL. Belgrade and its supporters in Moscow and some EU capitals may balk, he added, but for Kosovo, "the process is over."
"We won't be hostage to any country with a different view on this issue," Sejdiu said. "Let's take Greek Cyprus, for example, which has claimed it won't support Kosovo's independence. I think it will come to a rational resolution; Cyprus will remember that it is acting as just one part of an important group of countries that serves as the motor behind all developments in Europe. But if it [Cyprus] insists on maintaining its current position, we can't be hampered by it."
Cyprus, which has failed to resolve a dispute between its own dominant Greek majority and Turkish minority, is believed to be the last EU member to be openly skeptical of independence for Kosovo. EU diplomats, however, believe Cyprus will limit its dissent.
New Year, New Country?
Kosovo officials have strongly hinted that an independence declaration will come in the first few months of 2008.
The 56-year-old Sejdiu, who has served as Kosovo's president since early 2006, says the declaration will come once the ethnic-Albanian majority province has fully prepared its legislation and governing structures for the change.
He is also waiting for the results of next week's meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which is due to discuss a report on the status issue by negotiators from the EU, Russia, and the United States.
"All the preparations we're making now are connected to the tasks Kosovo has to accomplish related to its constitutional and legal infrastructure," Sejdiu said. "The issue, of course, is also connected to the general will of the international community to quickly and positively recognize Kosovo's independence. We think there will be more dynamic developments, in terms of Security Council recommendations, after it meets on December 19th."
Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999, when NATO bombed Serb forces in order to end a campaign against separatist ethnic Albanians. Ninety percent of Kosovo's 2 million residents are ethnic Albanians; their drive for independence has prompted warnings from minority Serbs -- who live mainly in northern Kosovo -- that they themselves will attempt to secede.
Sejdiu concedes mending ties with Kosovo Serbs "won't be easy." "Time will be needed to encourage them. This will be the responsibility of the Albanian majority, as well as of institutions and international mechanisms," he said.
"Coordinated steps are necessary for [Kosovo Serbs] to be able to live their own lives, to come out from that feeling of self-isolation and nonintegration that is a direct consequence of pressure coming from Belgrade. The north is a part of Kosovo, a part of its complete territorial integrity; and as such, it is untouchable in the sense of legislative and international protection," Sejdiu said.
EU leaders have attempted to soften Belgrade's resistance to an independent Kosovo by indicating they are prepared, for the first time, to formally offer Serbia the prospect of candidate membership.
It's unclear if Belgrade will be mollified by such a sweetener. The EU, eager to maintain stability in the Balkans, is also offering Kosovo a "clear European perspective" -- meaning Pristina, too, will eventually be brought into membership talks.
Authorities in Belgrade have threatened to respond to a Kosovo declaration of independence with everything from economic sanctions and energy cutoffs to armed conflict.
Asked about the possible consequences for Kosovo, Sejdiu said a combination of public determination and NATO backing mean Kosovo is prepared for anything.
"Kosovo can live without the economic links it currently has with Serbia," he said. "Serbia is trying to test our sustainability; whether we'll have the alternative channels and internal forces needed to resist whatever blockade Serbia imposes. We're ready."
Sejdiu continued, "The citizens of Kosovo know that you can't put a price on independence. And if Serbia tries to use violence in Kosovo, through military or intelligence pressure, who will it have to confront? NATO forces in Kosovo have given strong guarantees that they will not allow any use of violence."
Many countries outside the Balkans are looking anxiously to the Kosovo case as a template for how their own separatist conflicts may ultimately be resolved -- or dissolve into chaos. (The EU insists Kosovo is a "sui generis" case that sets no precedent for other breakaway regions.)
Sejdu says he is certain that rumors of violence will not mar Kosovo's final steps toward Western-backed independence -- and says Kosovo citizens play a "special role" in this.
"I think all this is a part of the propaganda used by those who oppose Kosovo's independence," he said. "This is done firstly to frighten Kosovo; and secondly to frighten international players that the worst will happen. For us, it is important to maintain the current calmness, and the maturity of our citizens and institutions as well."
Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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