28 January 2007

Belgrade calls for compromise over Kosovo

Associated Press, Saturday, December 02, 2006 8:39 AM

BELGRADE, Serbia-Serbia's foreign minister called for a compromise solution over the breakaway province of Kosovo, saying in comments published Saturday that this would be the only way to reconcile the opposing positions of Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

In an interview to Belgrade-based Beta news agency, Vuk Draskovic said any solution should be a compromise between respecting Serbia's territorial integrity and accommodating the demands by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians for full independence.

Although still formally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by a U.N. administration as an international protectorate since 1999, after NATO airstrikes ended a crackdown by Belgrade on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels. The U.N. has been mediating talks on the province's future status.

"Serbia is focused on defending integrity of its territory," Draskovic was quoted as saying, reiterating Belgrade's insistence that it cannot agree to a complete secession of Kosovo.

Draskovic said that the opposing positions "must be bridged by a compromise solution."

The ethnic Albanian's demand to control Kosovo is "legitimate" Draskovic said, "but so is Serbia's demand that there must be no change of borders."

He did not elaborate on a possible compromise, but acknowledged that the ongoing negotiations, steered by Western powers and Russia, could produce a result that would be "difficult and painful for Serbia."

Serbs see Kosovo as an integral part of their nation and want Belgrade to retain some form of control. They also fear discrimination against the province's Serb minority, much of which fled to the rest of Serbia after 1999, fearing reprisal attacks. Those who remain live in enclaves that are heavily guarded by NATO-led peacekeepers.

But the ethnic Albanians, who comprise about 90 percent of Kosovo's population, hope to see the last link with Belgrade removed.

"A compromise solution would be in the interest of both sides, it would be the only sustainable solution," Draskovic said, reiterating Belgrade's offer of a broad autonomy for the province.

A conclusion of the talks, originally expected by the end of the year, has been postponed until after Jan. 21 elections in Serbia, due to fears that an outcome could incite anti-Western sentiment in Serbia and play into the hands of right-wing and nationalist groups.

Some Serb hard-liners have called for Belgrade to sever diplomatic ties with any country that might recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Draskovic warned against such a move.

"Severing diplomatic relations would only mean a step back for us, a return to isolation," he said, referring to Serbia's pariah status during 1990s under former president Slobodan Milosevic.