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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 November 2007, 19:16 GMT
Kosovo looks to December deadline
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Pristina

Hashim Thaci
Mr Thaci has vowed to declare Kosovan independence

It was a tale of two elections.

On the one hand, Kosovo Albanians voting and hoping for a bright new future and the creation of a new state.

On the other, Serbs fearful and apprehensive about the future and deciding to boycott the election in large numbers.

The fact is, everyone is really focused on what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months.

Can a solution be found to one of Europe's most intractable problems - the long term political status of Kosovo?

During the past two years numerous attempts have been made to try to find a compromise deal between Serbs wanting to keep Kosovo a part of Serbia and ethnic Albanians wanting to create a new state out of Kosovo.

At the election, it was this issue that overshadowed everything and everyone.

No breakthrough

The key date now is 10 December when the Troika - representatives of the United States, Russia and the European Union - make their report to the UN secretary-general about the latest attempts to find agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

But the indications are that there will be no significant breakthrough between now and then.

So what happens after 10 December?

It's a sort of Catch-22 situation
Senior diplomat

Ethnic Albanian leaders - including Hashim Thaci of the election-winning Democratic Party - have indicated they could make a unilateral declaration of independence if the main powers, especially the United States and the European Union, back it.

Serb leaders say this would be unlawful and they would never recognise such a state.

Kosovo remains of central importance to many Serbs for cultural and religious reasons.

Meanwhile, international officials in the province, especially in the UN and KFOR are concerned that if a solution is not found soon, the situation could deteriorate, that the extremists on both sides would be strengthened and there would be the threat of violence.

As one senior diplomat put it: "It's a sort of Catch-22 situation. If there is no violence, then everyone thinks there is not a problem and there is no urgent need to find a solution.

"If there is violence, then the people of Kosovo are accused of political immaturity and told it is too early for a final decision on status. But the fact is the status quo is untenable."

Overwhelming boycott

One important feature of the elections was the relatively low turnout.

There was an overwhelming boycott by Serbs who do not want to be seen legitimising a government that may soon declare independence from Serbia.

Kosovan election posters
Turnout in the election was down on 2004

But even the overall turnout was only around 45%, nearly 10 percentage points lower than the last election three years ago.

The snow and freezing conditions may have had an impact but one can also not ignore the fact that many people are frustrated with politics and the political system.

Eight years after the war ended, and with millions of dollars pumped into the economy from abroad, people still experience power and water cuts.

Unemployment is high and the ability to travel extremely limited.

And above all that there is the continuing political limbo.

Albanians and Serbs living in Kosovo are extremely frustrated with their conditions of life and their uncertain future.

Various political models have been mooted as possible solutions to the status problem: the Hong Kong experience, or that of East and West Germany have been suggested.

But no significant common ground has yet been found between the two sides.

The essential problem remains - Kosovo Albanians want an independent state, Serbs wants anything but.

And despite all the talks, and all the reports, that central questions remains: how can the gap be bridged?

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