HOPES that the remaining fires of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s have almost burnt themselves out were dashed by the voters of Serbia at the weekend when they opted for a new constitution that would retain Kosovo as an inalienable part of Serbia. Since 1999 when Nato intervened to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Albanian population the territory has been a United Nations protectorate and negotiations have been taking place to establish its future as a state independent of either Serbia or Albania. PP It is possible to understand Serbia's wish to hold on to Kosovo, partly because of historical links and also because it is now all that remains of the states that once comprised Marshall Tito's Yugoslavia. However the facts on the ground argue against Serbia's ambitions; ethnic Albanians outnumber local Serbs in Kosovo by more than 10 to one. This being the Balkans matters are complicated by other interests; if Kosovo were to become independent of Serbia, Moscow might take it as a precedent for pro-Russian provinces of Moldova and Georgia to break away. The United Nations has favoured the creation of an independent Kosovo state. Whether that preference can be implemented in the light of the strengthened Serbian position must be open to doubt. A unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo could lead to the renewal of conflict. An indefiniate extension of the UN protectorate seems the most likely outcome.
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