Tensions rise in Balkans

By Dusan Stojanovic - Associated Press Writer


BELGRADE, Serbia -- Facing a possible loss of Kosovo, Serbian nationalists are re-igniting tensions in the Balkans, a region still reeling from brutal civil wars in the 1990s.

They're sending out dark hints about coming to the aid of their Serb brethren in neighboring Bosnia - a prospect that could unleash a new wave of ethnic violence.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his nationalist followers have launched a campaign against the international administrator for Bosnia, accusing him of seeking to dissolve the Serb mini-state carved out in a 1995 peace agreement.

The followers of late President Slobodan Milosevic have gone even further, saying that if Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province becomes independent, Serbia should respond by recognizing the Republika Srpska - the Bosnian Serb-controlled half of Bosnia.

"A referendum in Republika Srpska for its joining Serbia is inevitable," said Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the increasingly powerful Serbian ultranationalists.

The bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s - the worst carnage in Europe since World War II - started when the Serb-led Yugoslav army tried to prevent separatists in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo from seceding from the former federation.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia - which had comprised former Yugoslavia - are now all independent countries. Tiny Montenegro was the last republic to secede from much larger Serbia in a referendum last year.

Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, but has been run by the United Nations and NATO since the end of the 1999 war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Milosevic's forces.

Any attempt by Belgrade to win independence for the Bosnian Serbs would likely trigger renewed bloodshed in Bosnia, where an estimated 100,000 people died and millions were displaced in the 1992-95 war that pitted Bosnian Serbs against its Muslims and Croats.

Kosovo's fate is currently being negotiated at internationally brokered talks, which have been deadlocked because of the deeply opposing stands of Serbia, which wants to at least formally keep the province within its borders, and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which wants nothing short of independence.

If secessionist Kosovo Albanians declare independence as expected in December, Nikolic said Serbia must sever diplomatic ties with the West and impose an economic blockade on Kosovo.

Kostunica said proposals by Slovak administrator Miroslav Lajcak for strengthening Bosnia's joint, multiethnic parliament and other state bodies amounted to "the policies of force" seeking to alter the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the three-year bloodshed.

He said that "the preservation" of Kosovo and the Bosnian Serb mini-state are Serbia's "priority goals," and added that international policies in Bosnia and Kosovo were "jeopardizing essential interests of the Serb people."

Bosnian officials and Western powers, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, have formally protested Kostunica's apparent attempts to link the fate of Kosovo with Bosnia.

Bosnia's Croat co-President Zeljko Komsic said that Kostunica's statements "finally reveal Belgrade's murky political games toward Bosnia." In unusually harsh language, Komsic said that Kostunica "should keep his hands off Bosnia, or his fingers and his nose could be broken."

Kostunica's spokesman Srdjan Djuric said Komsic's comments were "primitive and warmongering."

Slobodan Samardzic, a Serbian government minister, rejected Western protests over Serbia's meddling into Bosnia's affairs, saying that the issues of Kosovo and Bosnia were linked "regardless of the government policies."

"Anyone in the region would easily link the two," he said, as Kostunica added in a statement Thursday that proposals by Bosnia's international mediator could trigger "a serious crisis."

Lajcak said that his new rules are designed to prevent Bosnia's lawmakers and ministers from blocking reforms simply by not attending sessions of Parliament or government meetings. The new rules change the way a quorum is calculated by counting ministers and lawmakers who attend, rather than including those who do not.

Bosnia's Serbs have often blocked proposed laws by not attending meetings. In general, Bosnian Serbs have objected to the strengthening of Bosnia's central institutions, preferring instead to strengthen ties with neighboring Serbia.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his support for Lajcak's measures and said in a statement that he "is concerned about recent political developments" in Bosnia.

Source: Associated Press