Kosovo's risky leap in the dark

Published on December 1, 2007, TheStar.com - Columnist

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

Gordon Barthos

Kosovo may soon be the world's newest state, splitting from Serbia. Slobodan Milosevic sealed the break when he sent troops to crush the rebellious province amid the Balkan wars in 1999, killing 10,000.

That led the United States, Canada and European allies to bomb Serbia to halt the ethnic cleansing, and to make Kosovo a United Nations protectorate.

This week newly elected Prime Minister Hashim Thaci vowed to declare independence "immediately" after Dec. 10, when a Security Council deadline expires for Serbia and Kosovo to compromise on the province's future status.

The 2 million Kosovars, mostly ethnic Albanians, are at odds with the Serbs, who offer autonomy not sovereignty. Understandably, Kosovars chafe at the status quo.

Yet even so, Thaci is promising what he can't deliver when he says "peace is our future," and vows there will be "no more crisis in the region." That calls to mind Quebec separatist leader Lucien Bouchard's empty promise during the 1995 referendum that "there will be no economic hardship."

Breaking up is always a risk. Kosovo is taking a leap in the dark. It could become a failed state before it is a fully recognized one.

The U.S. and most allies will grant recognition. But Kosovo isn't likely to get Security Council approval for a split, or a UN seat. Russia, a Serb ally, threatens to veto that, leaving the mini-state in limbo.

Meanwhile Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica vows to fight the "illegal" break. Belgrade won't take on the 16,000 allied troops in Kosovo. But Serbia can freeze half of Kosovo's trade. Cut 40 per cent of its power. And fan Serb secessionism in Kosovo's north.

Kosovo already is one of Europe's poorest, most corrupt and crime-beset countries, with scant foreign investment, an unhealthy reliance on aid, a dismal $250 average monthly wage, 40 per cent unemployment and daily hydro and water outages. This divorce will hurt.

With luck, Kosovars will succeed. They deserve sympathy. But independence, once proclaimed, will still have to be achieved.

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