Kostunica tells Bush why Serbs can't vote

Oct. 19, 2001 at 9:50 PM
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BELGRADE, Serbia, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica warned President George Bush in a letter Friday that the security situation in Kosovo is worsening and that it would be "absurd" to speak about the participation of the Serbs in the province's November elections.

He also said U.N. activity there leaves much to be desired.

"There is a lot that should be improved in the methods of work and activities of the United Nations, especially as regards Kosovo and Metohija," Kostunica was quoted by the Beta news agency as saying.

"I can note with regret that U.N. Security Council resolution 1244 (on Kosovo) has not been implemented in respect of the Serbs and other non-Albanians, their security, the return of the exiled and the search for the missing persons," Kostunica said.

Over 100,000 Serbs moved out of Kosovo at the end of the Yugoslav-NATO conflict over the province and after the arrival of international peacekeeping troops in June 1999.

Only a trickle has returned to the province since and the displaced Serbs have said the U.N. administration there has failed to provide them with safety and other conditions for normal life.

Kostunica said if something urgent and radical was not done in Kosovo, the world would appeal to the Serbs in vain to take part in the Nov. 17 elections for a parliamentary assembly in which they would be a junior partner to representatives of an overwhelming Albanian majority.

Explaining Kostunica away, his foreign policy adviser Predrag Simic said Friday night Belgrade feared that immediately after the Kosovo assembly was constituted, the Albanians might declare the province's independence.

"It is hard at this moment to explain a boycott of the elections to the international community which would certainly see it as sabotage," Simic said. "We want to go to the polls, but we don't know what and how would prevent a big Albanian majority in the Kosovo assembly from proclaiming independence. I believe that those in the international community who ponder over Kosovo seriously are aware of this."

Referring to sporadic violence against Yugoslav security forces by ethnic Albanian guerrillas in southern Serbia since last November, Kostunica said in the letter Yugoslavia had suffered from "terrorism." For this reason, it will be "more than ready to engage in the international struggle against terrorism within the system of the U.N.," he said.

"I hope you understand I'm writing to you concerned both about the stability of my country and the stability of the region," Kostunica told Bush. "The danger of terrorism in the Balkans is more than real. Instability only enhances it."

A decade ago, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic -- who was also president of the Yugoslav Federation -- stood before a cheering crowd in the public square in Pristina, Kosovo's main town, and publicly vowed that the province, sacred to Serbian historical memory, would remain Serb forever.

With Milosevic's backing, the Serbian minority in Kosovo launched a campaign of repression against the province's ethnic-Albanian majority. Thousands were fired from their jobs, and many suffered atrocities, and even death. Albanian guerrillas called the Kosovo Liberation Army fought the Yugoslav army in Kosovo's hills and forests.

According to analysts, Albania itself gave covert support to the KLA, but officially stayed out of the fray. But the Western nations first attempted to stop Serbian excesses against Albanians, and then issued an ultimatum calling for the withdrawal of Yugoslav military units from the province. When Milosevic rejected this request, NATO launched a U.S.-led 78-day air war against Serbia and Kosovo.

About 350,000 Kosovo-Albanian refugees flooded into the neighboring independent republic of Macedonia -- uprooted as much by the Allied bombing as by Serbian pressure -- and threatened to upset the delicate balance of the new nation's economic and ethnic structure.

On June 10, 1999, Milosevic pulled his troops and armor out of Kosovo. Thousands of ethnic Albanians returned home under the protection of a mainly NATO multi-national peacekeeping force, including troops from the United States and Russia. Under the terms of the Serbian withdrawal, the KLA was supposed to be disbanded. Order was to be restored, thus opening the way for a political solution.

But a political solution has remained remote.

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