11 March 2006

President's death casts shadow over Kosovo's future

XINHUA (CHINA), 2006-01-22 23:02:55


BELGRADE, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- The death of President Ibrahim Rugova will cast a shadow on Kosovo's future political scene, as talks on the future status of the Serbian province are about to start, observers said Sunday.


Rugova, a leading figure in the Kosovo Albanian drive for independence since the 1990s, died of lung cancer on Saturday at the age of 61.


His death has added more uncertainty to the prospects of the ethnic Albanian push for independence, observers said.


The funeral will be held Thursday, his office said. The U.N.-administered region has begun the difficult task of finding asuccessor to him.


Rugova led Kosovo's negotiating team in the province's future status talks, which were originally set for Wednesday in Vienna.


His strong leadership was seen as crucial in the talks and his death forced the United Nations to postpone until early February the first face-to-face talks between Kosovo's Albanian leaders and Serbia.


Legally still a part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since mid-1999, when the alliance drove out the forces of then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, accusing them of alleged human rights abuses in a crackdown on separatist Albanian rebels.


Kosovo's future status has long been a bitter subject between Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanian majority, who are pushing for independence from Serbia.


Kosovo Assembly Speaker Nexhat Daci is expected to be appointed as acting president of the province until the assembly chooses a new leader. But no political figures in Kosovo seem to enjoy the same prestige as Rugova among Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and internationally.


Rugova, hailed as "the Gandhi of the Balkans," was deeply committed to the ideas of non-violence. But the long unresolved issue of Kosovo's future status has made his non-violent movement gradually lose influence among young Albanians, who are prone to more radical means to gain independence.


Kosovo's UN mission and government met twice on Saturday, but still failed to decide who should succeed Rugova as the head of the Albanian negotiating team for the status talks.


At the end of the meetings, the authorities merely issued a brief statement paying tribute to Rugova and urging people in the troubled province to remain unified and calm.


Kosovo Serbs, meanwhile, expressed worries that Rugova's death could destroy the overall stability in the region. They called on the international community to take necessary measures to protect the Serbian community in the province.


After winning Kosovo's parliamentary elections in 2004, Rugova's Democratic Alliance of Kosovo, although the largest party at that time, had to form a coalition government with other parties.


His death could further weaken the party's influence in parliament and a more radical political force could take center stage in Kosovo's politics.


Before the death of Rugova, some leaders had warned of a looming political crisis and of "plots" in the bid to appoint a new president.


Analysts said his death could destroy the fragile balance within the coalition.


And many analysts say none of Rugova's likely successors has enough of the diplomatic acumen that he had on the world stage in the ethnic Albanian push for independence.


A major part of the problem is that Rugova declined to prepare anyone to take over from him within his Democratic League of Kosovo.


That has led to many expectations and possibilities regarding the political future of Kosovo, which has long been a war-torn region in the Balkans. Enditem