NATO guards Kosovo border amid Serb tension

The territory's declaration of independence has caused international ripples; analysts look to East Timor and Montenegro as examples of how Kosovo might fare.

As the violent Serbian backlash to Kosovo's declaration of independence is expected to continue this week, the unruly protests are causing concern for the Balkan territory and spurring leading analysts to look to East Timor and Montenegro as examples of how the declared state might fare.

NATO peacekeepers closed off roads between Serbia and Northern Kosovo Wednesday, with United Nations police guarding border checkpoints, anticipating more protests. Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia Sunday, ethnic Serbian groups have been protesting. They have destroyed UN and NATO property, set fires, and staged rallies, the Associated Press reports.

Border crossings at two places in Kosovo remained sealed Wednesday after at least 1,000 Serbs from Kosovo and Serbia ransacked and torched both sites Tuesday. Ethnic Serbians torched and ransacked NATO-patrolled border crossings as international tensions rose over Kosovo's declaration of independence, reports Agence France-Presse.

The United States, the European Union, and several European powers are supporting independence in Kosovo. Meanwhile, Russia, China, and Spain have warned that recognition of Kosovo could embolden separatists worldwide and threaten international norms.

President Bush said Tuesday that independence for Kosovo was a "correct move" that could bring peace to the long-troubled region. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, charged that Western support was "immoral and illegal," and likely to provoke a storm of separatism which could unsettle the international order, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Russian academics and observers claim the West has refused to listen to Moscow's concerns and Russia could face a whirlwind of secessionist movements throughout the former Soviet Union.

In Kosovo, lawmakers asserted their new claimed powers, passing their first legislation since declaring the new state, creating citizenship, passports, and a foreign ministry.

The Washington Post reports violent Serb demonstrations were symbolic of the minority group's determination to resist the idea that a new international border had been created. Serbs make up just over 5 percent of the population; 90 percent of the territory is ethnically Albanian. A map of the country's ethnic makeup can be found on the BBC's website.

"This is Serbia," said Dragan Mitrovic, a 48-year-old resident of Mitrovica, which is about 18 miles south of the border posts. "The Serbian army and Serbian police should be here."

Such sentiments, international officials worry, could inflame tensions and destabilize the new state. The Washington Post reports that international officials were concerned Serbian radicals were being bused into northern Kosovo, close to the border, and could try to provoke a violent response from the former Serbian province into crisis. Neighboring Serbia strongly opposes independence in Kosovo, which it considers to be part of its own territory.

A EU mission plans to supervise Kosovo's independence, but will not deploy for 120 days, allowing some time for anger to dispel within Belgrade, Serbia's capital.

The commander of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo Wednesday blamed minority Serb leaders for the attacks on two border posts, Agence France-Presse reports.

"Some local leaders took a huge responsibility yesterday," the French general told reporters in Pristina, adding: "The leaders should think deeply of their responsibility when they trigger this type of demonstration."

Germany joined the growing rank of nations in recognizing Kosovo, the third major EU power to do so. The 27-member EU remains sharply divided over the issue.

Eighteen EU member states overall have backed Kosovo's independence, either formally recognizing it, or declaring their intention to do so. Three others – Cyprus, Romania, and Spain – have explicitly refused recognition.

Serbia's parliament declared the split illegal and recalled its ambassadors from nations that recognized Kosovo's independence. Russia's foreign ministry has sent angry letters of protest to their capitals.

Russia, Serbia's strongest international ally, said the deployment of an EU police and judicial mission to Kosovo had no legal basis. The Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia had confirmed its position on "non-acceptance of Pristina's unilateral actions on declaration of the region's independence."

The minister said the step could destroy established international conventions of order and stability.

Within Russia, The Moscow Times reports, even Mr. Lavrov's statement was not enough for some legislators. Kostantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Russian parliament's international affairs committee warned that Kosovo's recognition would encourage separatists in former parts of the Soviet Union.

"There are a lot of countries that have their own Abkhazias and South Ossetias, and half of them are on former Soviet territory ... and they will take serious offense," Kosachyov told Russian News Service radio. He added that already troubled relations with Georgia and the West would also suffer.

In contrast, Kosovo's Albanian population appeared jubilant Sunday, pouring onto streets to celebrate independence, reports the Bulgarian Sofia News Agency.

The Associated Press reports that the experience of other new states could offer clues as to the future of Kosovo. It has joined the ranks of Montenegro and East Timor as three states formed in the 21st century. Some analysts have warned that Kosovo will face major challenges in reaching the economic success of Montenegro avoiding the path of impoverished East Timor.

Montenegro has prospered since breaking with Serbia nearly two years ago with a peaceful referendum. Montenegro's economy today is booming with annual economic growth at 7 percent and foreign direct investment of $950 million, the highest per capita in Europe.

East Timor, by contrast, has been wracked by political instability and violence, including the attempted assassination of its prime minister and president on Feb. 11. It has struggled to provide jobs for its 1 million people. Unfulfilled expectations for improved living standards led to riots and protests that culminated in a military mutiny that triggered the government's collapse and an Australian-led military intervention.

Some analysts warn that Kosovo faces similar challenges to East Timor. Despite the influx of billions of dollars since Kosovo came under NATO protection and UN administration following the 1999 war that forced a withdrawal of Serb forces, Kosovo is one of Europe's poorest countries. Communist-era infrastructure is collapsing with current unemployment at over 50 percent. But Kosovo also has significant natural resources, including some of the largest lignite coal deposits in Europe.

One analyst expects the nation to develop quickly, reports the Associated Press:

"In a generation, Kosovo could become a major electricity exporting country, in a power-hungry region," said James Pettifer, a British academic and Balkan specialist.
"But the investments needed are long-termed and even under the most benign conditions would take time to come to fruition."

EU official Pieter Feith began his mandate as EU special representative to Kosovo, reports Agence France-Presse. Mr. Feith is to head the international civilian mission that will oversee Kosovo's independence. Dubbed EULUX, he said the EU misison would be present in minority Serb districts that oppose independence.

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