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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 18:21 GMT
Kosovo fears spill over from Macedonia unrest
Ethnic Albanians demonstrate in Prizren, Kosovo, in support of rebels fighting the Macedonian government.
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo: support for the rebels in Macedonia is almost universal.
By Ian Pannell in Kosovo

The latest events in Macedonia are being watched closely in neighbouring Kosovo, where the post war settlement was supposed to bring peace and stability.

Western officials in Kosovo are deeply worried, although few will say so publicly.

The fear is that recent events have the potential to destabilise the region at a time when the positive signals have never been so good.

Gary Matthews at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo says a conflict on the doorstep brings practical problems:

"Any time the near region itself is troubled only adds to the difficulties of trying to make progress here .. for instance in establishing the legal framework for self-government here in Kosovo."

Tables turned

Two years ago it was Macedonian radio reporting on the Albanian refugees fleeing fighting in Kosovo, but today the story is reversed.

It is not just in Macedonia where fighting has broken out: There have been problems for some time now in Presevo, on the border with Serbia.

Violence gets you to the conference table and peaceful argument and dissent do not

Bob Churcher, Balkans analyst

Bob Churcher, a Balkans analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution think-tank, says the failures in Kosovo have provided fertile ground for these new rebel movements.

"These problems have arisen because we have not settled the Kosovo question... and experience over the last decade in the Balkans shows that violence gets you to the conference table and peaceful argument and dissent do not.

Public support

There is almost universal public support in Kosovo for the rebels in Presevo and Macedonia.

With the memory of their own conflict still fresh in their minds, many people conclude that fighting, while undesirable, is a means to an end.

Ethnic Albanian students demonstrate in Pristina, Kosovo, in support of rebels in Macedonia.
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo march in support of rebels

But Fatmir Lima, a former commander with the Kosovo Liberation Army now a spokesman for the second largest party in Kosovo, the PDK, says his people are not to blame.

"It is the Macedonian government who should be trying to manage the problems they have... they should not try to blame somebody else for what's happening there.

The fear is that events in Macedonia and the Presevo valley will feed that radical mentality, pushing the moderates yet again to the side-lines.

That, in turn, would make the issue of the political status of Kosovo even thornier than it already is.

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