Monday, January 22, 2007

Uncertainty, disappointment prevail as Kosovo's ethnic Albanians await U.N. status proposal

I am glad that finally someone thought about asking ordinary Kosovars how they feel about the whole situation.

Uncertainty, disappointment prevail as Kosovo's ethnic Albanians await U.N. status proposal

PRISTINA, Serbia: Uncertainty and disappointment gripped ethnic Albanians in Kosovo on Monday as they awaited a U.N. envoy's proposal on the future status of the disputed province.

Business was slow in Pristina's market place, a possible indicator of hard times ahead in the cash-strapped province, which has a double-digit unemployment rate.

Adding to the gloom were mixed parliamentary election results in Serbia, which could delay Serbian acceptance of any deal for Kosovo.

Serbia's president called on pro-democratic parties to put differences aside and quickly form a coalition government to stave off gains made by ultranationalists in the weekend parliamentary election.

"I am very disappointed. People have lots of hope, but to me it seems like we're not getting what we thought we will," said 42 year-old Minire Mehija, a mother of five, frustrated at the prospect of continued uncertainty.

With the United Nations plan likely to fall short of full independence, Mehija, who owns a bridal shop in the capital's old quarter, said she was concerned that Kosovo would plunge into violence again, with many people living in poverty and high youth unemployment.

"They keep telling us it will happen this month or the next one," she said. "Serbia is not letting it go. Our politicians turned cold, now when they speak it feels like they're stuttering."

"We've been waiting for seven years!" she exclaimed.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people, have pushed for full independence from Serbia since the early 1990s. Serbian leaders and the province's Serb minority insist in keeping Kosovo within Serbia's borders.

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who mediated yearlong talks between the two sides on Kosovo's future, is due to present his recommendation to Western governments and Russia on Friday. Following that, he will present the plan to leaders in Serbia and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Diplomats and officials say that Ahtisaari's proposal will not include the word independence, but will pave the way to Kosovo's eventual statehood, making it a topic of debate at the U.N. Security Council through the next months.

They say Ahtisaari is likely to propose conditional independence, supervised by a European Union-led mission that will have executive and corrective powers in enforcing the deal, envisaging broad autonomy for the province's Serb minority.

Valon Citaku said he expected an independence that will be monitored. "It's not good enough, but it's imposed and we have no other choice but to take it," said the 27 year-old ethnic Albanian, sipping coffee with friends.

"This is an invitation for waiting, but I don't think we have the patience anymore," Citaku said, pointing to Kosovo's economic troubles rather than ethnic tension with the Serbs as the main concern.

Kosovo has been run by United Nations mission since mid-1999 following NATO's air campaign that brought to a halt Serb forces crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

Though large scale violence has ebbed and ethnically motivated attacks have sharply dropped, there are fears that the proposal will spark renewed violence between ethnic Albanians and the Serb minority living in isolated enclaves.

"This is not what we were promised at the start," said Faik Cakolli, a 63 year-old construction worker. "People have lost their patience."

Sabit Begolli, a shoe trader, agreed. "Any delay beyond spring, will push us to war," he said. "This has become unbearable."

Uncertainty, disappointment prevail as Kosovo's ethnic Albanians await U.N. status proposal - International Herald Tribune

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