THE Nato bombing offensive in Kosovo in 1999 stopped the ethnic cleansing of the province's majority ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces but it did not solve the long-term future of the province which Serbia has held for centuries. That problem is still with us and the latest attempt to resolve it has failed. A proposal by Western members of the so-called UN Contact Group to give de facto European Union-supervised independence to an Albanian Kosovo, with safeguards for Serbian residents, has been blocked in the UN Security Council on five occasions by Russia acting in consultation with Serbia. The proposal is dead until, as Russia says, Serbia and the Albanians talk and agree. Which means that it is very dead.

So the latest idea of the Western powers on the Contact Group is to tell the Albanians to prepare to declare unilateral independence when a sufficient number of European Union members have pledged their readiness to recognise the new state and to participate in supervising its new independence until it is able to stand on its own two feet. The wisdom of such a course seems open to question.

At worst it would provide an invitation to Russia to intervene, even militarily, on behalf of Serbia and at best it would leave an open political wound to fester in years to come. The Albanians should be encouraged to be patient, despite President Bush's recent rash promise to them that “Independence is near”.


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