Kosovo's declaration spells Balkan trouble

Published on February 23, 2008, Welland Tribune

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

By Scott Taylor

Last weekend the streets of Kosovo were flooded with citizens celebrating a unilateral declaration of independence by ethnic Albanian Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

This much-anticipated announcement formally severed all official ties between the disputed province and the rest of Serbia, thereby creating Europe's newest state.

The United States was the first to recognize Kosovo's independence, with George Bush sending his congratulations to Thaci from a stop in Tanzania. The United Kingdom, Germany and France were quick to follow suit, and with these big powers on board, the Albanian Kosovars popped the champagne corks and throughout the capital city of Pristina throngs of people waved a sea of red and black flags in celebration.

For people only paying casual attention to this long-simmering Balkan hot spot, Thaci's declaration of independence may indeed be viewed as a joyous occasion.

In fact, most Canadians may be forgiven if they thought this whole matter was resolved back in the summer of 1999.

After a 78-day bombing campaign, NATO had negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Serbian government. Under the terms of UN Resolution 1244, Serbian security forces would withdraw from Kosovo, and under NATO military supervision, the 800,000 Albanian Kosovar refugees who had fled the fighting would be repatriated.

The Albanian guerrillas - known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) - were to be disarmed and demobilized by NATO troops, who would also ensure the safety of Kosovo's 200,000 ethnic Serb civilians.

Resolution 1244 made it very clear that under the UN Charter, Kosovo would remain the sovereign territory of Serbia.

Over the past nine years, NATO has failed to uphold its part of the bargain.

The KLA was never disarmed; they were simply formalized into the Kosovo Protection Corps. Serb civilians suffered widespread violent reprisals from Albanian extremists resulting in a mass exodus with fewer than 40,000 ethnic Serbs still residing in protected enclaves. There was also no progress made towards a negotiated settlement of Kosovo's status between Belgrade and Pristina authorities.

With Serbia unwilling to relinquish the sovereignty of this province - the religious heartland of the Serbian people - there was no legal way to push independence through the UN Security Council. That impasse is what led to last Sunday's unilateral declaration, and the deep divide within the international community over this clear violation of the rule of law and the UN Charter.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs Department understands that any rapid recognition of a disputed province's declaration of independence from another country could create a dangerous precedent, which might come back to haunt us.

So while Canada looks at what diplomatic options are available, let's review some of the background.

Up until 1998, the U.S. State Department regarded the KLA as a terrorist organization. The KLA's assassinations and bomb attacks against government officials led to a heavy-handed Serbian military crackdown.

At this point the Americans changed horses and decried the Serb reprisals rather than the terror provocations of the KLA. Under U.S. pressure an ultimatum was issued by NATO to Serbia in February 1999, and the KLA was suddenly legitimized as freedom fighters.

By March 24 of that year, when the deadline expired without Serbia's compliance, NATO began bombing Kosovo and Serbia.

Within days a trickle of refugees became a flood as some 800,000 Albanians fled the renewed fighting and the NATO bombing.

Once this whole incident had ballooned into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion, NATO used the suffering of the Albanians to further justify their intervention.

Putting recent history aside, the fact remains that Kosovo is simply not viable as an independent country. It is a landlocked, mountainous province, not quite twice the size of Prince Edward Island, with a population of two million.

The unemployment rate stands at 50 per cent; for those working the average annual income ranges around $2,400 CDN a year. Prostitution and illegal drugs form the major pillar of Kosovo's economy, with the other main infusion coming from the annual foreign donations of approximately $600 million.

The red and black flag they wave is the Albanian flag, not Kosovar. And as a result of the ongoing violent attacks against non-Albanians in the province, this is now one of the most ethnically-cleansed territories in all of Europe.

Prime Minister Thaci is a former ruthless KLA warlord who called himself "Snake" and the commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps is Agim Ceku, who made a notorious name for himself as a war criminal in Croatia.

Given the rotten foundation upon which Kosovo intends to build its own independent state, I think Canada would be well advised to uphold the UN Charter in this instance, and to respect the rule of international law.

Scott Taylor reported from inside Serbia and Kosovo during the 1999 bombing campaign and has made more than 20 subsequent visits to the region.

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