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Global flash points: How to spot signs of peace

Monitor correspondents and experts suggest what to watch for in eight international conflicts.

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• Better relations with Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbors, crucial for stability of the Gulf region.

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• Iran's influence in Iraq. Three US-Iranian meetings have been held at the ambassadorial level in Baghdad to discuss Iraqi security. Iranian officials want to expand the talks to other issues that have divided the two countries.

KOSOVO

THE CRUX: Ethnically distinct from the rest of Serbia with a 90 percent Albanian majority, the tiny province seeks independence. Serbs, however, see Kosovo as the cradle of their civilization, and insist it remain part of their country.

THE STATUS: An 18-month United Nations process to reach an agreement between Serbs and Kosovars ended in December. Kosovo leaders are expected to declare independence after Serbia's Jan. 20 elections.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

• Russia's position. As a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council and supporter of Serbia, it could prevent the West from gaining international consensus for Kosovo's independence. If Kosovo proceeds unilaterally with Western support, Russia may use that precedent to back separatist forces in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

• Serbian elections, which will reflect public opinion on the Kosovo issue.

• Kosovo declaration of independence. Serbia has promised to refrain from violence, but hard-line militias may take action themselves. It will also be an early test of Kosovo leaders, some of whom were former members of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

TURKEY

THE CRUX: In a bid to restore public support in Turkey's Kurdish southeast, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has escalated its violent campaign for greater Kurdish cultural and political rights.

THE STATUS: Turkey, which fears it could lose territory to any eventual Kurdish state, has mobilized 100,000 troops along its border with Iraq's Kurdish north, where Turkish planes have fired on PKK targets. The conflict has drawn in the US, which is allied with Turkey but also dependent on the support of Iraqi Kurds in its reconciliation efforts in Baghdad.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

• A relatively calm winter, with snow in the PKK's mountain hideouts making military operations difficult. Experts expect clashes to resume in the spring.

• During the winter respite, possible progress on the diplomatic front. In November, Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) proposed talks between the KRG, Turkey, Washington, and Baghdad.

• Moves toward amnesty for PKK rebels, which experts say is requisite for any eventual peace.

COLOMBIA

THE CRUX: A decades-long civil war, though tempered in recent years, still simmers between right-wing paramilitaries aligned with the government and leftist guerrillas.

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