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Final status talks on the future of Kosovo are set to begin next month. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari arrived in Yugoslavia on Monday to start the difficult process of negotiating between Serbia, which considers Kosovo its province, and the ethnic Albanian majority of Kosovo, which wants full independence.

Ahtisaari is definitely the man for the job, coming off a big success in negotiating a peace settlement between the Indonesian government and secessionist rebels in the province of Aceh. The deal made him a frontrunner for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize and led to his being chosen to head the UN’s negotiations on Kosovo’s future. The outcome of these talks is extremely important for the future of Europe, but there don’t seem to be any easy answers to the central questions of the conflict.

Should Serbia be allowed to retain Kosovo as a province? It was Serbia’s revoking of Kosovo’s provincial autonomy and ethnic cleansing of the Albanian majority as part of its effort to reassert control over Kosovo that plunged the region into crisis in 1999. Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian military had already committed war crimes in Bosnia in the early ’90s before doing it again six years later. This prompted the United States and other NATO members to launch a bombing campaign to force the Serbian military from Kosovo. Add this to the fact that Kosovo is nearly 90 per cent Albanian Muslim and it’s hard to see why Christian Serbia should retain control over it.

Should the Albanian majority in Kosovo be awarded full autonomy? Many countries have provinces with majorities that are ethnically and religiously different from the country’s majority. If Kosovo deserves full independence on ethnic grounds, the same principle would justify hundreds of potential civil wars in countries around the world. Also, Albanian secessionists fought a three-year war against the Serbian government before the Serbian military overran Kosovo and set off an international crisis. Finally, the Albanian majority has engaged in ethnic cleansing since Serbia’s defeat, forcing many thousands of Serbs out of Kosovo while allowing thousands of people from neighboring Albania to settle there. The non-Albanian population of Kosovo is now half the size it was before the war, with some estimates as low as 25 per cent. Granting full autonomy to Kosovo could be a dangerous precedent for Europe and the world, as it effectively declares impossible the idea of a multi-ethnic state impossible.

Should the UN be the arbiter of Kosovo’s future? The Kosovo war was a NATO operation in which the United States and its allies acted “unilaterally,” without the approval of the UN’s Security Council. NATO then chose to subcontract the administration of Kosovo to the UN after the war in 1999. After assuming control over Kosovo, the UN did nothing to prevent the ethnic cleansing of most of the remaining Serbs from the province, and allowed crime and lawlessness to run rampant in Kosovo. The UN might not have the clout to negotiate a compromise between the two sides and it certainly isn’t in a position to enforce the result.

While it’s possible that negotiations could result in a breakthrough, neither side is likely to budge. Serbia’s government will not let go of all territorial and demographic claims to Kosovo, and the Albanian majority won’t accept anything less than total autonomy from their leaders. If negotiations are to succeed they will need the backing of regional powers such as Russia and Turkey, and the cooperation of Albania and Macedonia, among others. This will require some serious power politics, and should probably be led directly by NATO. The most powerful military alliance in the world is the only player in a position to stare down opportunists who might try to take advantage of the situation.

Whatever Ahtisaari’s intentions and efforts, the UN is unlikely to be able to get any of the interested parties to give an inch. The last Kosovo war started after negotiations broke down; sometimes, weak negotiations are worse than no negotiations at all.

Neglected Story of the Week: The recent court proceedings of a Toronto man accused of participating in the Rwandan genocide has received a great deal of well-deserved attention in Canada and abroad. Desire Munyaneza, was arraigned last month in Montreal on several charges, including two counts of genocide, two counts of crimes against humanity and three charges of war crimes. But there’s another case taking place that could have direct bearing on many people involved in war crimes.

Frans van Anraat, a Dutch businessman, is being charged in an Amsterdam court with complicity in war crimes and genocide for supplying chemical agents for poison gas that were used by Saddam Hussein against Iran and against Iraq’s own Kurdish population. If convicted, the case could open the door to the criminal prosecution of other people who sell chemical or biological agents to murderous regimes. Many European firms that had contracts with Hussein’s government will be watching this case very carefully, and other businesses will start to worry about the consequences of arming the worst governments for genocide.

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