Don't Support Independence for Kosovo, Urges Former Envoy

Published on November 2, 2006, Embassy

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

Canada's last ambassador to Yugoslavia says rights, but analysts say last week's independence vote is purely symbolic.

As voters in Serbia prepared to vote on a new constitution last week, a former Canadian ambassador to the former Yugoslavia and a top prelate from the Serbian Orthodox church called on Canada not to support moves to grant independence to Kosovo.

Flanked by Bishop Artemijc Radosavljevic of Kosovo, James Bissett, who was Canada's last ambassador to the country formerly known as Yugoslavia, told a press conference on Parliament Hill that the ethnic Albanian leadership in Kosovo is incapable of protecting the rights of non-Albanians in the former Yugoslav province.

"If there's any group of people in the world less deserving of independence, it's the Albanians in Kosovo, who have proven by their terror and their barbaric treatment of non-Albanians in the last seven years that they are not meeting any standards that would qualify them for joining the democratic nations of the United Nations," said Mr. Bissett.

Kosovo has been under UN protection since 1999 when NATO launched an air campaign to drive out Serbian forces to stop the mass killing of the region's Albanian population. The region was the centre of the Serbian Empire until 1389, when the Ottoman Turks defeated the Serbs. The Serbs regained Kosovo from the Turks in 1913 and proceeded to declare it a province of Serbia. There are 1.5 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and 200,000 Serbs. When fighting erupted between ethnic Albanian guerillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the late 1990s, about 100,000 Serbs were forced to flee their homes in the province. KLA activities elicited a brutal response from Serbian forces, leading NATO to intervene to stop what at the time was seen as the cleansing of ethnic Albanians. Serbs consider Kosovo as the birthplace of their empire and have resisted attempts to grant it independence, even though the region is ruled by ethnic Albanians under UN protection.

Bishop Artemijc accused the ethnic Albanian leadership of allowing the destruction of 150 churches and abetting the expulsion of Serbs from the region.

"Independence means the destruction of my people and uprooting from my birth place," he said.

Although Canada did not take part in the NATO bombing, it has a duty, as a member of the international community, to prevent an imposed independence on Kosovo, Mr. Bissett said.

Symbolic Vote Won't Drive Independence

The UN, under former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, is expected to deliver a verdict on the status of Kosovo by the end of this year. Diplomats and analysts predict Mr. Ahtisaari will suggest independence for Kosovo under the supervision of the European Union. Mr. Bissett also called on Mr. Ahtisaari to resign for uttering partisan statements in public.

"The parameters are geared in such a way that will grant one solution–independence. Ahtasaari has said as much and that statement alone should have completely disqualified him and he should have been asked to step down," said Mr. Bissett.

Agim Hadri, president of the Kosovo Information Centre, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that aims to inform Canadians about Kosovo, dismissed claims that the Albanian population is forcing Serbs out of Kosovo as "pure manipulation." He also said the region's Albanian population supports independence, and nothing short of it will satisfy them.

"It is now almost the reality, it just remains to be put on paper," he said.

Mr. Hadri also dismissed Bishop Artemijc's claims that Serbs are facing eviction in Kosovo, arguing that many left Kosovo on their own will. Mr. Hadri also said Mr. Bissett should not be taken seriously because he is partisan.

"He was always pro-Serbia during the NATO humanitarian intervention, and I don't think we have to take into consideration what he said."

Last week Serbians voted by a thin majority of 51 per cent to recognize Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia. Edith Klein, program advisor for the European Studies progam at the University of Toronto, said the vote will remain symbolic, as it is unlikely to halt the drive for independence.

"It's a way for the government of Serbia to make noise, but there's no substantial meaning to it," she said, adding that the thin majority is a clear indication that some Serbs want to move beyond the Kosovo issue.

"More moderate Serbs accept that Kosovo is not part of the future," said Ms. Klein.

Fears that political stability will remain elusive in a scenario where Kosovo becomes independent are unrealistic, said Robert Austin, from the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto.

"I think an independent Kosovo is the best thing for stability in the region because there's no way you could put the old Yugoslavia back," he said, adding that it will normalize political life and lead to a new focus on the economy. Mr. Austin also said UN and international mediators are aware that last week's referendum in Serbia will have no impact on the future of Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanians, who have boycotted previous elections organized by Serbia, were barred from voting.

Mr. Austin also believes that an independent Kosovo will put into place measures to ensure the rights of the Serb minority are respected since the region will still be under the scrutiny of the European Union.

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