Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Macedonia warns of risks of partitioning Kosovo

Macedonia warned on Thursday against partitioning Kosovo in an effort to solve the impasse between the West and Russia over the breakaway Serbian province, saying it would embolden radicals across the region. The country's highest security body asked the government to follow closely fresh talks on the fate of the Albanian-majority territory "and inform us in time of the need to react". The West fears a partition of Kosovo between ethnic Albanians and Serbs could revive Albanian insurgencies in neighbouring Macedonia and Serbia's Presevo Valley. But the option remains on the table as a possible middle ground between the Kosovo Albanian demand for independence and Serbia's insistence the province remain within its borders. "Any eventual division can only be done along ethnic lines, and that would encourage the numerous radical structures in the region," President Branko Crvenkovski said after chairing a meeting of the country's National Security Council. "We cannot underestimate the risks that it would produce," he told reporters. The Council convened after the European Union's envoy to fresh Kosovo talks said this month the major powers would endorse any deal reached by Serbs and Albanians, including the previously taboo option of partition. Wolfgang Ischinger has since repeated the West's opposition to partition, but his remarks caused concern in Macedonia where a 25-percent Albanian minority dominates the north and west. An ethnic Albanian guerrilla army battled Macedonian government forces for seven months in 2001, until NATO and the EU brokered a peace accord granting Albanians greater rights. ALBANIAN QUESTION Tensions remain, and ethnic Albanian leaders in the Balkans warn any division of Kosovo to satisfy the Serbs would reopen the "Albanian Question" in the region. Partition would be likely to keep Kosovo's northern slice -- where about half of the territory's 100,000 Serbs live -- as part of Serbia. Albanians say they could claim the same right in Macedonia and the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia. Serbs and Kosovo Albanians have rejected partition, but have also offered no concessions on the bottom line -- independence. The two sides go to Vienna next week for separate meetings with a troika of envoys from the United States, Russia and the European Union, after 13 months of sterile U.N.-led talks. Russia has blocked the adoption at the U.N. Security Council of a Western-backed plan for EU-supervised independence. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since NATO bombed in 1999 to drive out Serb forces and halt atrocities against Albanians in Belgrade's two-year war with Albanian guerrillas. The West fears major unrest if the deadlock continues much longer, potentially spilling over into Macedonia and Presevo. Kosovo has threatened to declare independence unilaterally by the end of the year, potentially splitting the 27-member EU.

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