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Kosovo Has Been Partitioned 'De Facto,' Says Expert

(Washington, DC-June 29, 2006) During the past few years, Serbia has worked to achieve the "de facto partition" of Kosovo, according to an expert on the Balkans region. James Lyon, a special advisor to the International Crisis Group, told a RFE/RL audience last week that the "partition of Kosovo has already occurred," because much of the infrastructure has been "rerouted to Serbia" -- such as the electricity power grid, all telephone exchanges, and new roads that "skirt the Albanian populations." In addition, Lyon said, "The [local] police and education system are dependent on Serbia."

Lyon said a recent "flurry of op-eds and articles in the Serbian press" appears to signal the Serbian government's acceptance of a formal partition of Kosovo. Nonetheless, according to Lyon, a final status agreement on Kosovo, expected later this year, could result in renewed inter-ethnic violence, most likely in the form of "low level guerrilla warfare." Lyon observed that "all KFOR troops have been withdrawn [from Kosovo north of the Ibar River]" and that "local Serbs have been recruited into paramilitary groups in Northern Kosovo." He also feared that the violence of 2004 could recur, with "[Kosovar] Albanians trying to 'cleanse' Serbs from villages in southern Kosovo."

Politicians in both Belgrade and Prishtina, Lyon said, are preoccupied with borders, to the detriment of ensuring the safety of people, many of whom live in enclaves throughout Kosovo. For instance, "most Serbs in Kosovo live in enclaves in southern Kosovo, not in the north," Lyon said, so he urged the international community to develop "contingency plans" for what "might go wrong" when Kosovo's final status is determined.

Lyon also urged the international community to "change Serbian populism" by "restoring funding" for civil society programs in Serbia, where democratic development has stalled and "the Milosevic propagandists" have filled "the vacuum." Lyon said this has resulted in "not a single [Serbian] history book accurately describing the country's 20th century history," and the Radical Party polling 40 percent in Serbia. He suggested that the success of neighboring Montenegro, which has created a "genuinely multi-ethnic government", could be used as a "motivational tool" for Serbia.

Lyon also drew attention to Bosnia, where "constitutional reforms have failed" and efforts to integrate with the European Union (EU) have "run out of steam." Lyon predicted that Montenegro "may move very quickly to get into the EU" and "put pressure" on Serbia, as well as Bosnia, to complete the reform process.

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.