Belgrade and Pristina Prepare to Talk

Authorities' attempts to resolve long-standing issues appear to have the backing of the population.

Belgrade and Pristina Prepare to Talk

Authorities' attempts to resolve long-standing issues appear to have the backing of the population.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The long-awaited upcoming dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina will not include any discussion on Kosovo's final status - something which the Albanian population views as a priority.

Talks are expected to get under way some time this summer after a series of false starts, but officials have so far been reluctant to set a date.

Since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, Belgrade has launched around ten initiatives to ease negotiation with the Kosovo Albanians, but the latter have, until recently, stated that it was too early for dialogue.

The late Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic had encouraged a speedy resolution of the Kosovo issue - but the process was derailed when he was assassinated on March 12 this year.

Bilateral talks were discussed again prior to June's European Union Summit in Thessalonica, where representatives from the international community advised both sides that the time for dialogue had come.

The process is bound to take several years, with Belgrade determined that final status can only be discussed after an agreement is reached on all issues relating to Serbia's relationship with Kosovo.

While Pristina is unlikely to be happy that there will be no debate on the future of the protectorate, the Serbian agenda mirrors that of the international community, which is eager to leave the issue till a later stage in the dialogue process.

But political analyst Predrag Simic told IWPR that it is in Belgrade's interests to start the dialogue process as soon as possible, as Serbia's membership of the European Union can only be finalised when the Kosovo issue has been resolved.

Belgrade's plan of action - its "Declaration on Kosovo" - will be unveiled next week, and while the details are being kept under wraps, analysts say that that the main points are clear.

The ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, coalition is agreed on several key issues - the return of 200,000 displaced Serbs, improved security for ethnic minorities, discovering the fate of missing people from both sides, and practical matters such as the supply of electricity and issuing of personal documents.

A public opinion survey carried out by Belgrade daily newspaper Glas Javnosti, covering more than a thousand people in major towns and cities, indicated that more than two-thirds supported the dialogue initiative.

The same survey showed that most of people in Serbia agree with the order of topics to be discussed as proposed by the government. More than half said that the safety concerns of Serbs living in Kosovo should be addressed before negotiations on the protectorate's final status take place.

Referring to Serbs still living in Kosovo, Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who heads the government's coordination centre for Kosovo, told the media, "Once we have people who are safe and not living in ghettos, we can talk about electricity, roads, pensions, salaries and other issues."

He went on to say that the next three years would be crucial for the protectorate. "I think that a plan for achieving multi-ethnic standards in Kosovo will soon be realised," he said.

"Our proposal is that the level of standards should be assessed by a contact group, that we all report together to the Security Council, and that both Belgrade and Pristina - as well as the international community - should be assigned tasks in this process.

"Once we have achieved this, we can agree on a date for the start of talks on Kosovo's potential final status."

There may yet be another sticking point in the process, as Belgrade wants Kosovo Albanian negotiators to be vetted by the local judiciary and the international tribunal - to avoid a situation where a mediator is indicted by The Hague on war crimes charges half way through the process.

This request could throw the participation of certain ethnic Albanian leaders into question - for example Kosovo Democratic Party, PDK, leader Hashim Thaci, who has been accused of the murder of some Serbian policemen in the protectorate. Thaci has condemned these killings and denies any involvement.

Belgrade had earlier issued an international arrest warrant for Thaci on genocide charges, with Serbian justice minister Vladan Batic alleging that the PDK leader was "the biggest criminal since the Second World War", and asking tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to issue an indictment.

Tribunal spokesperson Florence Hartmann has stated that the Serbian authorities have provided insufficient evidence for charges to be brought.

The Serbian authorities may yet find themselves negotiating with a politician that they were only recently insisting be transferred to The Hague.

Belgrade may have little ground to stand on in this case, as the international community sees Albanian leaders such as Thaci as legitimate negotiators.

Daniel Sunter is IWPR's project manager in Belgrade.

Serbia, Kosovo
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