Kosovo-Serbia dialogue still stalled, as larger issues loom

13/02/2012

It’s been well over two months since negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo sat across the bargaining table to discuss technical issues. Larger issues, including highly charged matters such as missing persons, remain unaddressed.

By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic in Pristina and Belgrade -- 13/02/12

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Relatives anguish over those still missing from the 1998-1999 war, during International Day of the Disappeared observances near Pristina on August 30th, 2010. [Reuters]

Bajram Cerkini of Mitrovica lost his 19-year-old son in 1999 and 13 years later still has no information about what happened to him.

He is bitter that by participating in on-again, off-again EU mediated talks with Kosovo, Serbia may edge closer to EU accession without addressing issues such as war reparations and missing persons.

"Brussels is not serious about it. If it was, this issue could have been put as a precondition for any further advancement of Serbia towards the EU. All signs until now are that Brussels has not taken this issue seriously until now because it also means that some people have to face justice, go in front of court," Cerkini tells SETimes.

These larger issues are still not the substance of ongoing talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

The dialogue, which began in March 2011, inches forward instead focusing on technical issues, although there have been some important breakthroughs. Compromise solutions, for instance, were found regarding the integrated border management. But other technical issues such as energy, telecommunications and Kosovo's regional representation are still far from settled, and the date for resuming talks remains elusive. The last session was on December 2nd.

"I cannot confirm the date of the next round ... at this point. We are keen to see the dialogue continue, and both sides remain engaged," Maja Kocijancic, EU spokesperson tells SETimes.

Complicating the entire situation are two new moves by Kosovo opposition parties. The main one, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) called on February 7th for a formal interruption of the dialogue. Its leader, Isa Mustafa, who is also the mayor of Pristina, told Kosovo Public Broadcaster RTK that while the international community must be assured that Kosovo is not against talks with Serbia, "it is absurd … to enter into dialogue with somebody that has entered the territory (of Kosovo) with criminal forces, forces of organised crime, has blocked a part of the country, and through that part creates fiscal evasion and violates the territorial sovereignty of the country, [while] we continue the dialogue and behave as if we don’t see anything. "

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A house destroyed in the western village of Kalicane, during the 1998-1999 war. [Reuters]

The other opposition party, Vetevendosje, tried a different tactic the following day, asking the Constitutional Court to rule whether the agreements struck so far, considered international agreements, require ratification by the parliament. The party also staged two protests last month aimed at forcing the government to impose reciprocity with Serbia at the borders.

Edita Tahiri, head of the the Kosovo negotiating team, said war reparations and border demarcation should be addressed this year. The agenda, she adds, is based on what is considered a priority by all three sides: Kosovo, Serbia and the EU.

As for war reparations, "Serbia should undertake the obligations that derive from its responsibility for the war in Kosovo", she told SETimes.

Belgrade has a completely different view. Borko Stefanovic, head of Serbia's negotiating team, tells SETimes "Reparation cannot be the paid to someone who lives in the same state. That is the first thing."

Marko Milanovic, professor of international law at Britain's University of Nottingham, agrees, telling SETimes that it is very difficult for Kosovo to claim war reparation from Serbia, primarily because during the conflict in Kosovo, it was not an independent state.

"In other words, Serbia was, then, violating the rights of its own citizens, not the law of another state," says Milanovic.

Kosovo lawyer Adil Fetahu tells SETimes that Serbia should compensate for the billions in material and non-material damage it caused Kosovo, and that Pristina should continue to demand it. "This is …a lot of work, which can be dragged on for years and decades," Fetahu concedes, adding "There is no chance to reach a deal between Kosovo and Serbia on the issues of war reparations and compensation ... international arbitrage should decide on that."

Fetahu believes that the demarcation of the border with Serbia is also a complicated political issue and "without any chance" of being solved "in the near future".

He notes however, the requirement that "no state can become an EU member without solving border contests with the neighbours. Each state has to reply to the EU questionnaire correctly and precisely on which is its border with each of the neighbouring states."

As for control of border crossings, Dusan Janjic, research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade, assesses the agreement reached over the summer this way: "In the implementation of this agreement, we will have an absurd situation where things will look better on paper and between negotiators than in the field," he tells SETimes.

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KFOR personnel have been playing a lead role at the troubled Brnjak crossing. [Reuters]

He describes a "dual" situation underway with the technical dialogue, which for Belgrade "takes place without political approval and support in the field". The international community and Kosovo authorities, he says, are trying to get "as much as possible from Belgrade, to be able to implement it in a more adequate moment".

Members of the public wonder when the big issues will be tackled. Pristina resident Besnike Salihu tells SETimes "Agreements reached so far have been reached with difficulties. There are problems in their implementation as well. I don't think [border demarcation] will be on the agenda at all for this period of time."

Sasa Denic, a Kosovo Serb from Gjilan, in eastern Kosovo, does not even consider the issue of the war reparations. "One part of Kosovo should pay another part of Kosovo, or those who stayed have to pay those who left Kosovo?" he tells SETimes.

All seem to agree however that the issue of missing persons must be addressed soon. The International Commission on Missing Persons says the remains of 2,370 missing persons have been located and identified. Commission chief Kathryne Bomberger says there are approximately 1,800 people still reported missing from the Kosovo conflict and "a steady decline over the years in finding missing persons".

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Belgrade’s Stefanovic says the sides have been unable to find a mechanism that will enable the more efficient locating of the missing. "And this is what we insist on," he says.

Gordana Djukanovic, from the Serb Association of Families of Persons Kidnapped and Killed in Kosovo, tells SETimes that there are 512 Serbs and non-Albanians in the missing persons list from Kosovo.

"We had, before negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina started, a meeting with Mr. Stefanovic when he told us that on the agenda of issues, it will be negotiated," Djukanovic tells SETimes, adding that they were surprised when the issue was not mentioned at all.

"I do hope that Belgrade authorities and the authorities in Pristina will agree to, truly and sincerely, start finding and exhuming the graves for which we have provided maps and live witnesses, and to finally, also, start with identifications in order that families find out the fate of their missing," she says.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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