Balkans Risk Sliding Back into Turmoil





Judy Dempsey, writing for the Financial Times (London) (March 20, 2004)

The Balkans risk being plunged into a new cycle of instability and bloodshed if the three main international decision-makers in the region do not act quickly and start political negotiations over the status of Kosovo, diplomats and analysts warned yesterday...

...Nato, the EU and the UN have invested much time, money and personnel in the small province that the US-led military alliance defended against Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader indicted by the Hague Tribunal for alleged war crime and genocide.

However, since the 1999 Nato bombing campaign against Serbia, all three organisations have been reluctant to address the main issue that dogs stability in the Balkans: Kosovo's future political relationship with Serbia...

...The EU started negotiations last year but they have made no progress, partly because of the rise of Serb nationalists in Belgrade and a weak, nationalist leadership in Kosovo."But there is also a lack of political will by the EU," said a European diplomat. Yet Balkan experts warned yesterday that if political negotiations did not start soon, it was likely violence would continue in the province and spill over to the rest of the region.

In Kosovo, the small ethnic Serb minority - which has never felt secure since 1999 - could call on Serbia to help them.

The ethnic Albanian majority could be tempted to use the unrest, fanned by some Serb nationalists in Belgrade, as a means to push their case for independence.

Next door in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the EU is expected to take over from the 12,000-strong Nato-led Sfor later this year, Bosnian Serbs could use the chance to break away from the federation of Croats, Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs.

The EU and Nato have been trying to sew this republic back together since the bloody civil wars of the 1990s, but Bosnian Serbs still hanker to join with Serbia.

Were that to happen, nationalist Croats, both in Croatia and Bosnia, might seize a similar chance, say analysts.

Diplomats suggest that Montenegro, now linked with Serbia, could use unrest in Kosovo to push its own claims for independence from Belgrade. There is also concern about what might happen in Macedonia....


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