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Friday, 20 October, 2000, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Belgrade changes worry Kosovo
Ethnic Albanians
Albanians are adamant in their demands for statehood
By Nick Wood in Pristina

Just over a year ago Albanian dreams of an independent Kosovo were riding high.

Slobodan Milosevic was the West's number one enemy, and Nato troops had marched into the province ensuring, in the minds of many Albanians, that the Yugoslav Army would never return.

But now the West is courting Yugoslavia's new President Vojislav Kostunica many Albanian politicians fear their hopes of achieving statehood are dashed.

Kfor troops in Kosovo
The province remains under UN administration
And despite reassurances from the West about the future of the province, Albanian leaders are eager to speed up moves to strengthen Kosovo's international status.

The immediate reaction in Kosovo to events in Belgrade on 5 October was one of denial, with most newspapers barely mentioning the dramatic storming of the parliament.

No response

The leaders of the main Albanian parties made no immediate response to Milosevic's downfall until the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Dr Bernard Kouchner, welcomed the changes and called for dialogue with Belgrade.

Bernard Kouchner
Bernard Kouchner has welcomed the new era in Belgrade
The idea of initiating discussion with the new administration was put to a meeting of Albanian parties at the UN headquaters in Pristina on 6 October and was rejected outright.

The public stance of most parties was that Kosovo's march towards independence would continue unhindered.

But now Yugoslavia is in the process of re-establishing normal relations with the rest of the international community, Kosovo's final status has inevitably come under closer scrutiny.

A report issued by the political think tank, the International Crisis Group, highlighted that some Western governments may already be trying to stall the development of Kosovo's independent economic and political institutions.

Independence undermined

The document addresses fears that France and the United States in particular may try and use the forthcoming European Union summit in Zagreb on South-eastern Europe to this effect.

Hasim Thaci
Hasim Thaci wants the issue resolved
What's more, Kosovo's Albanian leaders know they are not best placed to defend their interests.

Vojislav Kostunica's status as a president of a sovereign state means that his views will carry weight at the summit, while Kosovo must rely on the non-partisan UN to represent its interests.

The consequence of this is that there is even greater pressure among the Albanian leaders to strive for autonomy.

"They are pushing for the status of self-government because they know it is the only way they can have legitimate representatives in such discussions," said a senior aide to Dr Kouchner.

Interim constitution

Since April this year the UN has been discussing an "interim constitution" for Kosovo with France, Britain, Italy, Germany, and the United States.

Rioting Albanians in Kosovo
There are fears that violence may erupt if there is no agreement
The "pact" as it has been labelled by Dr Kouchner is meant to be a political road map defining the steps towards autonomy.

So far the report has yet to be represented to Albanians, but Hashim Thaci, the leader of the Kosovan Democratic Party, recently called for the creation of a working group to complete work on the draft.

Dr Kouchner's office has made it clear they do not see implementation of a pact as affecting Kosovo's final status.

But on the other hand, if the international community were to try to halt such steps, many fear the reaction of some Kosovo Albanians could be violent.

See also:

18 Oct 00 | Europe
21 Sep 00 | Europe
06 Jul 00 | Europe
21 Mar 00 | Europe
05 Feb 00 | Europe
25 Jan 00 | Europe
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