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Bite bullet on Kosovo or face failure - Think tank

BRUSSELS, Aug 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United Nations mission in Kosovo may fail if the powers behind it continue to duck the issue of the Serbian province's future political status, an international think tank said on Tuesday.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a Kosovo Report Card (www.crisisweb.org) that unwillingness to address this key question is the source of virtually all of Kosovo's problems after nearly 15 months as a UN protectorate.

NATO-led peacekeeping troops had managed to disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army but NATO and the United Nations had not stamped out violence against Kosovo's Serb minority and set up "the basic structures of normal life", the report said.

It likened the mission to "a ship that has left its harbor without any final destination and whose crew - forced to sail without rudder or keel - is unable to prevent their craft from lurching from one course to another..."

Most of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who form a 20-to-one majority since Serbs fled following NATO military intervention last year, want independence.

Major powers see that as a certain recipe for Balkan upheaval, but at the same time concede that Serbs and Albanians are unlikely to co-exist peacefully for years to come.

"There is no magic wand on this issue - the international community is if anything even more divided on the issue of Kosovo's future status than it was at the end of the 1999 war," the ICG report said.

"But failure to address this problem will have growing consequences that in the end could cause the entire mission to unravel."

The think tank, which includes prominent former diplomats, soldiers and political leaders, urges that the international community should at least make clear that Serbia has "forfeited all moral and legal right to return to Kosovo in a ruling capacity".

But it should stop short of making any formal commitment to an independent Kosovo and make clear to the people that the issue of final status will depend "on how they handle self-rule in such areas as minority rights and good relations with neighbors".

The ICG proposes that elections for an interim Kosovo government be held in early 2001, with an elected president taking office by June.

One solution short of outright independence for Kosovo, which had wide autonomy but fell short of republic status in the old Yugoslavia, would be a confederation including Serbia, along lines proposed by pro-Western Montenegro, the Crisis Group said.



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