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BALKANS: Kosovo Talks Bring Hope

Analysis by Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, Sep 24 2010 (IPS) - Serbia has lost all its military and legal battles over Kosovo, but there is hope that the internationally sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina in October may bring some normalisation in relations between Serbia and its breakaway province.

“The talks are a big step forward, after so many years of direct or political conflict,” international law professor Vojin Dimitrijevic told IPS. And professor of political science Predrag Simic says “it’s now the right moment for talks on status of Serbs in Kosovo.”

The talks will be held under the auspices of the European Union (EU), and will deal with several issues of vital importance between the two. Independence of Kosovo, long opposed by Serbia, will not be discussed.

Earlier this month, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling for such talks, after the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top legal body of the UN, ruled in July that secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008 was not an illegal act.

Putting aside the usually passionate rhetoric of many Serbs who still regard Kosovo as a part of Serbia, Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic is focusing on organised crime, over which there is substantial cooperation among the nations that went to war in the 90s. But many issues remain.

Some 80,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, living in the north and in scattered enclaves around some 1,300 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, dating back to the 12th century. Serbs lost their independence in 1389 in a battle with Turks. They always regard the region as the cradle of their medieval state and of Orthodox identity.

In the course of centuries, Serbs became a minority in Kosovo, and are now living among two million ethnic Albanians. Belgrade revoked the broad autonomy of Kosovo Albanians in 1990 and introduced direct rule. That meant that in cooperation with Belgrade, Kosovo Serbs held all the power in the province.

Ethnic Albanian armed rebellion aimed at independence, and Serbia’s repression led to 11 weeks of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombing of Serbia in 1999. After that, Kosovo was ruled by the UN, and proclaimed independence in 2008. Serbia vowed never to recognise it.

Dimitrijevic and Simic say the coming talks should focus on broad autonomy for Serbs, and property issues for those who fled in 1999, and whose homes and land have been grabbed by Kosovo Albanians since. Serbs within Kosovo also want a locally run Serbian administration, and close ties with Belgrade in education and healthcare.

“That is the maximum Serbia can get,” a top Serbian diplomat told IPS.

European Union (EU) Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele has given Serbia a proposed agenda for talks that covers “cooperation in border protection, customs, trade and economy, transport, telecommunications, care for historical and cultural heritage and the fight against organised crime.” If it is cooperative, Belgrade will see its EU candidacy accepted by the end of the year.

Kosovo is looking for an end to the Serbian blockade on passage of goods, in force since 1999. Ethnic Albanians who worked for Serbian firms, and whose pensions were revoked in 1999, are looking to reclaim the pensions.

The railway through Kosovo has been idle since 1999. Travel through Serbia with Kosovo passports or a Kosovo licence plate is also banned. The transport lines are through Albania or Macedonia, making exports more expensive.

A test of Kosovan cooperation will be the taking over of the new head of the Church, Patriarch Irinej, on Oct. 3. His official seat is in the Patriarchate of Pec in Kosovo. The Patriarch has said the Church wants “dialogue that will bring good to all the people in Kosovo.”

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