Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

2006: A Decisive Year for the Balkans

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

2006: A Decisive Year for the Balkans

Article excerpt

Experts are forecasting a whirl of diplomatic activity in the Balkans in the coming months, making 2006 a decisive year for the war-torn region.

Splintered by ethnic conflicts in the 1990s, segments of the former Yugoslavia are pushing for solutions to the legacies of those years. Several states in the region are moving toward EU membership.

Developments may include the creation of two new countries, as Kosovo and Montenegro look to break away from Serbia. It could also mean a makeover for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

And many hope Serbia, like Croatia, will round up the last of its war crimes suspects: the UN war crimes tribunal's two most-wanted suspects are thought to be hiding in Serbia more than a decade after being indicted for genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

What's going to happen with Kosovo?

Though the province is still technically part of Serbia, the UN has been running it since the fighting ended in 1999. The majority Kosovar Albanians want independence, while the minority Serbs want to remain part of Serbia. The Serbs envision carving the province into Serb and Albanian areas - a model tried in Bosnia, which is still not fully sovereign more than a decade after the guns fell silent.

In November, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari came to the region to lay the groundwork for talks that were supposed to start on Jan. 25. But Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova's death last week delayed the talks, now expected to begin this month. Absent a strong leader like Mr. Rugova, Kosovar Albanian politicians are again jockeying for seats on the negotiating team.

It's likely that the majority Albanians will have to give some power to the Serb minority, and agree to some oversight from the UN or the European Union, giving the province conditional independence. While Kosovo's constant power and water outages may not make it Europe's most viable new state, independence would remove the threat of a new war posed by any handover of Kosovo to Serbia.

Why does Montenegro want independence?

As the other Yugoslav republics broke ranks in the early 1990s, Montenegro's 650,000 people stuck with Serbia. But while Serbia's former president Slobodan Milosevic - now in his fourth year on trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague - fought and lost three wars, ruining Serbia's economy and international standing, Montenegro adopted the euro and ran its own internal and foreign affairs.

The republic got its own dubious reputation as a kleptocracy, however, as media reported on Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's alleged involvement in the lucrative Balkan cigarette-smuggling trade. But the EU now says that Montenegro has made some small improvements in the rule of law and the fragile economy, and has more of the characteristics of a country than it did even three years ago. …

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