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Europe Opposes an Independent Kosovo

Diplomacy: Ministers reject calls for statehood by moderate leader Rugova, whose party is headed for election win.

November 20, 2001|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — European foreign ministers Monday rejected calls for independence by moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, whose party was headed toward victory in Kosovo's parliamentary elections.

Rugova said Sunday that Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, is ready for independence "today or tomorrow," and that he expected it within three years.

But Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who chaired a Monday meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels, told reporters: "We have not changed our minds. We are not in favor of independence."

Rugova "knows very well the international community is against independence," Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said. "We have to sit down and really consider what could be a solution, but I am not in favor of independence as such. . . . The new government has to tackle Kosovo's economic problems and crack down on crime. . . . It also has responsibility for the wider stabilization of the region."

The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, which ran the elections, announced Monday evening that with 92% of the votes counted, Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo had 46%, former guerrilla chief Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo had 26%, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, led by Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerrilla commander, had 8%. The only slate of Serbian candidates, called the Return Coalition, took 11%.

The results make Rugova a strong favorite to win election as president by the new Kosovo Assembly, but he will need parliamentary support from other ethnic Albanian parties or the Serbian coalition to win that post. His party also will need partners to name a prime minister and form a government.

Of the 120 Assembly seats, 10 are reserved for Serbs and 10 for other minorities. The remaining seats are apportioned according to the percentage of votes received by each party. That means Rugova's party will have about 46 seats, Thaci's party about 26 and Haradinaj's about eight. Serbs will hold about 21 seats--the 10 reserved seats plus about 11 more based on the election results. The system is designed to give minorities overweighted representation.

"We think this is a tremendously successful election," John Menzies, chief of the U.S. office in Pristina, the provincial capital, said Monday. "I do believe there will be multiparty cooperation, of necessity. This is what we're hoping for."

Fatmir Limaj, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Kosovo, said the results mean that his party's candidate for president, former political prisoner and humanitarian activist Flora Brovina, still has a chance to win the post because she could capture some Serbian votes in the Assembly.

"Flora Brovina stands above the party," said Limaj, who during the guerrilla war against Serbian rule in Kosovo fought under the nom de guerre "Commander Steel." "It's much easier for the citizens of Kosovo to trust her, because she symbolizes sacrifice and humanitarianism."

Limaj also said that his party might be willing to break a parliamentary deadlock by supporting a president chosen from Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo but not Rugova himself. "Someone else in that spot would be better than him for the future of Kosovo," Limaj said.

Once the Assembly elects a president, that person will nominate a prime minister, who will form a government that will take responsibility for most matters of daily life in Kosovo. Under a 1999 U.N. Security Council resolution, ultimate control will remain in the hands of a U.N. administrator until the international community decides it is time to seek a permanent settlement of Kosovo's status.

International control of Kosovo was established in June 1999 as a result of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 78-day bombing campaign designed to force former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end his crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanians, who make up a large majority of Kosovo's population.

After a NATO-led peacekeeping force entered Kosovo in June 1999, nearly 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians fled the province in fear of reprisal attacks by ethnic Albanians. Out of a total population estimated at more than 2 million, about 80,000 to 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo. Almost all Serbs oppose Kosovo independence, while virtually all ethnic Albanians favor it.

Western diplomats from several countries who briefed reporters in Pristina but spoke on condition of anonymity said they expect the new Kosovo government to focus its energies on practical problems.

"They will be sobered relatively quickly by the amount of work," one diplomat said.

But the diplomats also noted that if the new ethnic Albanian-dominated government proves competent and respects minority rights, that could hasten the day when the international community is ready to consider Kosovo's final status--and that it might be independence.

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