Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Europe's Next Independent State

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Europe's Next Independent State

Article excerpt

Out of sight, out of mind. That's largely been the world's approach toward the former Balkans ethnic war zone of Kosovo.

Thankfully, that's about to end.

This summer, the international community is set to review the highly charged issue of Kosovo's political status. Since a 1999 NATO air campaign drove Serb forces from Kosovo, this poor, tense corner of the former Yugoslavia has been in legal limbo.

Officially, it's a province of the country now known as Serbia and Montenegro. It has a Serb minority, but Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian population demands independence. The compromise since the war has been to have Kosovo administered by the United Nations, and secured by 18,000 NATO troops.

This "between" state is no longer sustainable. Uncertainty has helped drive Kosovo's economy into the ground. Unemployment runs at about 60 percent. Because of Kosovo's undetermined future, neither the World Bank nor the International Monetary Fund can offer assistance.

At the same time, ethnic conflicts have flared. Last spring, Kosovo's mainly Muslim Albanians went on a rampage, injuring hundreds of Serbs and attacking their Orthodox churches, which are part of Serb identity. Nineteen people died. Without a settling of the status question, it's feared violence could flare again.

This week, the Bush administration gave a welcome, if belated, push toward resolving this thorny problem by putting forward a road map toward resolution. If all goes well, final-status negotiations - involving Europe, the US, and both sides in the conflict - would begin in the fall.

Choices for Kosovo

To maintain credibility as a facilitator, the US isn't taking a position on Kosovo's final status. But the Western community is rightly gravitating toward independence.

Such a decision would involve some difficult issues, but considering the alternatives, independence makes the most sense.

Serbia's notion of "more than autonomy, but less than independence" is vague, and simply won't be accepted by Kosovo's majority Albanians. Autonomy was the official status under which "ethnic cleansing" of the Albanians by Serbs occurred, and it was that ethnic violence that led to the war in the first place. …

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