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Reconstruction Slows in Kosovo

(Washington, DC--March 4, 2003) The political and economic momentum for rebuilding Kosovo has lost momentum in the last year, Louis Sell, Adjunct Professor at the University of Maine at Farmington told a recent RFE/RL audience in Washington, D.C. Sell, the author of the book "Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia" (Duke University Press, 2002), is a former State Department diplomat who served as Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Belgrade, Director of the Office of Russian and Eurasian Analysis at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and Deputy to the High Representative for Bosnia Peace Implementation.

Reconstruction has bogged down, said Sell, because of "changing priorities" in Kosovo and abroad that have left the issue of the region's final status unresolved. Meanwhile, the political and security situations have yet achieved a "self-sustaining equilibrium." Sell said he saw no sign that anyone wanted to take control of towns like Mitrovica from the "illegal, underground" Serb administration. Kosovo's current level of economic activity is also unlikely to continue, since the value of its imports exceeds the region's Gross Domestic Product by 25 percent.

Nevertheless, there is some good news, Sell said. Privatization of formerly state held property is proceeding, despite problems of establishing clear ownership title. In the security area, the recent arrest of seven ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia on terrorism charges is an encouraging sign as well.

Sell called for negotiations on Kosovo's final status to be given greater emphasis, instead of the current emphasis on achieving all human rights standards before such talks can proceed. According to Sell, the peace process "needs a road map." Sell also said he believes that Belgrade would be willing to grant Kosovo autonomy. Further progress could be made, he added, by revitalizing the process by which Serb refugees could return to Kosovo.