Concerns of Serb Exodus Growing

Published on June 20, 2006, Der Spiegel

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

With final status talks on Kosovo seemingly going nowhere, conerns are growing that a mass Serb exodus would result should the Albanian-dominated province be granted independence.

The negotiations on Kosovo's final status began in February and have produced little in the way of concrete results. Both sides have been unwilling to compromise with the Serbs dedicated to maintaining at least nominal control of Kosovo. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on Monday criticized Europe for constantly placing conditions on his country. "Serbia expects a true partnership based on mutual trust, without conditioning and pressure," Kostunica said according to the Serb daily Politika. Albanians in Kosovo meanwhile have been trying to downplay the ongoing Serb-Albanian enmity in the province. An independent Kosovo, said Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, will be a step forward for stability in the region. cgh/ap/reuters/spiegel

On Monday Milan Ivanovic, a Serbian leader in Kosovo, warned of "growing Albanian terrorism" in the province. He told a Belgrade press conference that there have been 70 incidents of ethnic violence directed at Serbs in Kosovo in just the last few months. Departing head UN representative Soren Jessen Petersen, however, has become the lightening rod for much of the criticism with the Serbs claiming that he has essentially been lobbying for Kosovo independence. The Dane surprised everyone by announcing that he was stepping down from his position at the end of June and has since been much more vocal in his support of Kosovo's independence. "Kosovo's dream -- independence -- will come true," he said last week. Belgrade has criticized Petersen's claims that conditions for Serbs in the province have improved. Petersen is scheduled to deliver his final report on Kosovo to the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

Refugees leaving Kosovo
Concerns are growing that granting independence to Kosovo could result in tens of thousands of Serbs evacuating the region. According to a classified United Nations document, up to 30,000 Serbs would leave the province should it secede from Serbia, even in the absence of ethnically motivated attacks perpetrated by the region's Albanian majority. Should such attacks occur, as many as 70,000 of the current 100,000 Serbs living in Kosovo would flee, according to the UN estimate. The prognostication comes as both sides continue maneuvering ahead of an approaching decision on the final status of Kosovo, which has been a virtual NATO protectorate since 1999 following preceding years of ethnic violence and warfare. Serbians especially seem concerned that the international community is leaning towards an independent Kosovo. Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, Belgrade's Kosovo liaison, warned that granting independence to Kosovo would amount to "opening a Pandora box" as it would be wind in the sails of separatist movements across the globe, according to the state Tanjug news agency on Sunday.

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