Kosovo powder keg

Published on February 23, 2008, Savannah Morning News

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

Kosovo's bid for independence could be complicated by low productivity, high unemployment, and half its population being under 16.

NINE YEARS ago, the United Nations made a deal with Serbia: Hand over Slobodan Milosevic, stop the persecution of ethnic Albanian Kosovars and institute certain reforms, and Serbia would be able to maintain its territorial integrity, including the province of Kosovo.

But by granting immediate recognition of the breakaway Kosovo region after it announced its independence Sunday, both the U.N. and the United States have reneged on that deal - even after Serbia held up its end of the bargain.

In this instance, religion seems to have colored U.S. policy, and most likely to ill effect.

Kosovo is about half the size of metro Atlanta in both population and geographic area. The majority of its 2 million people are Muslim. In the Bush administration's zeal to show the world it supports Muslim democracies, it too quickly turned its back on Serbia in favor of Kosovo.

Angry Serbs responded Thursday by breaking into the U.S. embassy, burning an office and an American flag. The attack merits condemnation, and the fact that Serbian authorities seemed to look the other way while the mob assembled suggests that officials wanted to send Washington a message.

Although some tiny nations do make a go of it, backing Kosovo's independence is a decision the United States may regret, considering the region's internal instability and potential for disaster.

Industry in Kosovo is virtually nonexistent. The gross domestic product per capita is only $250 a year. Unemployment is at a dreadful 50 percent, and half the population is under 16. That's a million youths, half of whom are not likely to find work, and so become discontent.

An angry, young, destitute Muslim populace has too often proved a fertile recruiting ground for radical Islam. Kosovo's independence should therefore be met with a healthy dose of unease.

News reports quote former U.S. envoy to the U.N. John Bolton warning, "Its instability risks attracting Islamic extremists from around the world."

The move could also destabilize Macedonia and Montenegro. Both nations have regions with significant ethnic Albanian populations that, like Kosovo, border on Albania.

Besides granting approval of a possible magnet for terrorists within Europe, recognizing Kosovo also puts the U.S. at odds with allies such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Spain and Israel. It could also mean a further cooling of relations between the United States and Russia, which opposed the break-up of Serbia.

Congressman Dan Burton, R-Ind., founding chairman of the Congressional Serbian Caucus, has urged the Bush administration - as well as Serbia and Kosovo - to remain at the negotiating table to work toward a mutual agreement.

"I was deeply disappointed to learn today that Kosovo has decided to walk away from peaceful efforts to resolve the status of the province by unilaterally declaring its independence from Serbia," Rep. Burton said in a statement Sunday.

"This separation has occurred despite concerted efforts on behalf of Serbia to engage in negotiations to determine a mutually agreed upon solution that would ensure a peaceful, prosperous future for Serbs and Kosovo Albanians alike. It is my fear that this unilateral action could spark another round of violence."

Unfortunately, it seems the powder keg that set off World War I is all too likely to explode again.

In the Bush administration's zeal to show the world it supports Muslim democracies, it too quickly turned its back on Serbia in favor of Kosovo.

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