Liberty or a Lid for Kosovo?

The comparison was inevitable. In Kosovo, Europe and the United Nations are struggling to keep ethnic and religious violence from erupting again, as it did viciously last week. In Iraq, the US has been struggling to do the same for a year.

The comparison ends, however, because of a US plan to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis in July, despite terrorist attempts to incite communal divisions. In Kosovo, the UN and Europe - after five years of efforts since the US-led liberation - are nowhere near to deciding if Kosovo should become an independent state or keep some association with its former, ruthless master, Serbia.

Last week's violence between the Christian Serb minority and the dominant, mainly Muslim ethnic Albanians was surprisingly swift and widespread. It was probably inflamed by extremist Albanians, and casts doubts on the UN's ability to administer the province and the capability of NATO-led peacekeepers to prevent more killings.

Most of all, it shows how little progress has been achieved in helping create the kind of Serb-Albanian harmony that would justify international support for an independent Kosovo.

Europe may be stymied in such efforts because of its reluctance to set up what could be a Muslim state, one it fears might be a springboard for Albanian organized crime on the Continent. Such concerns, however, should not hinder efforts to curtail radical Albanian nationalists eager to "cleanse" the province of Serbs. Germany, which is largely leading the Kosovo effort, should put more resources into building a civic-based identity for all Kosovars.

The trigger for the violence was a false rumor, broadcast on TV, of a Serb assault on Albanian boys. Perhaps more responsible journalism and a better rumor-alert system might prevent a repeat of such a tragedy.

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