Kosovo Talks Stall After Djindjic Murder

Discussions aimed at improving relations between Pristina and Belgrade, paving the way for final status talks, likely to be put on the back-burner.

Kosovo Talks Stall After Djindjic Murder

Discussions aimed at improving relations between Pristina and Belgrade, paving the way for final status talks, likely to be put on the back-burner.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Talks on Kosovo's future are likely to be postponed for some time following the recent murder of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, chief Michael Steiner has confirmed that talks between Belgrade and Pristina were unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future, as Serbia would need time to recover following the March 12 assassination.

Pristina will also need time to adapt to the situation, with Kosovar politicians gauging whether Belgrade's approach to the protectorate has changed.

While they resented Djindjic's bid to partition the protectorate, Kosovars saw the late premier as a pragmatist with whom it would be possible to negotiate their independence.

Hashim Thaci, a former guerrilla leader and the head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, told the media that Djindjic's murder "had left Kosovo without a reliable negotiation partner in Serbia".

However, the new Serbian prime minister, Zoran Zivkovic, said at his initial address to parliament that the new government will stay faithful to Djindjic's policies on Kosovo - but did not specify when the planned talks would begin.

Belgrade analysts believe that Kosovo will not be seen as a priority for some time. Dejan Anastasijevic, who writes for Time magazine and the local weekly Vreme, said while Zivkovic may follow the same course as his predecessor, he is for the moment preoccupied with rounding up criminals suspected of involvement in the assassination.

Before Djindjic's death, Steiner's call for a dialogue met with a reluctant response in Belgrade and Pristina even though his initiative was limited to the solution of practical issues, such as personal and legal documents, electricity and recognition of Kosovo's license plates.

Belgrade is not prepared to discuss any proposals that don't include the final status of the region and remains opposed to full independence for the protectorate.

Djindjic responded to Steiner's call by proposing discussion on the partition of Kosovo along ethnic lines, with the creation of two federal units governed by Albanians and Serbs respectively following a "civilised and peaceful transfer of populations". Kosovars, not surprisingly, rejected the idea out of hand. UNMIK have been equally dismissive.

Steiner has yet to get official word from Belgrade over whether it is prepared to talk about the issues he first raised.

The Kosovars, initially, were more willing to discuss the measures. Local Albanian leaders endorsed the idea, but it was subsequently dismissed as being too hasty after failing to acquire broad political support.

Kosovo prime minister Bajram Rexhepi at first described the Steiner initiative as a "step forward", then changed his mind saying that Pristina had other priorities such as the transfer of powers from UNMIK and Kosovo institutions.

Djindjic's counter-proposal is thought to have turned Kosovars against the Steiner initiative.

In a speech before the Kosovo assembly two weeks ago, Rexhepi said that "the only thing Belgarde is interested in is partition, not dialogue".

His political adviser Rexhep Hoti explained the government's hesitation more bluntly, saying, "In our century-long experience with Serbia, we learned that dealing with Belgrade is no joke." This was seen as an indication that the authorities in Pristina were not prepared for dialogue with Belgrade on Djindjic's terms.

Analysts fear the fall out from the Steiner proposal has led Pristina and Belgarde to become even more suspicious of each other, making any future initiative less likely to succeed.

Although the international community is eager to initiate dialogue between the two, both seem to need a break to reconsider their positions.

Arben Qirezi is a regular IWPR contributor

Serbia, Kosovo
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