MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Sat Nov 30 15:40:02 2002

Original sender: Project on Ethnic Relations <per@per-usa.org>


There was a dramatic turn of events at the PER roundtable on Albanians
and their Neighbors, held in Lucerne, Switzerland on November 15-16: the
opening of the first face-to-face talks between officials from Belgrade
and Pristina over the future of Kosovo.

Prior to the meeting, Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi had warned
PER that he would not speak directly at the roundtable with Serbian
Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic (who heads the Kosovo Coordination
Center of the Serbian and Yugoslav governments) and would refuse to be
seated with him at the same lunch table because of Covic's accusation
last year that Rexhepi, a surgeon, had personally committed atrocities
against Serbs during the war in Kosovo.

During the first day's morning session, however, Covic announced
unexpectedly that he now believed he had been provided with inaccurate
information about Rexhepi that he should not have repeated.  He issued
his sincere regrets.

During the break I asked Covic if he would affirm, when we reconvened,
that his remarks were in fact an apology and if so, whether he would
offer to shake hands with Rexhepi.  I asked Rexhepi whether he would

When the session resumed Covic affirmed his apology to Rexhepi and I
asked the two to shake hands. They did so to the applause of some 80
participants, including such figures as UNMIK Head Michael Steiner,
Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano, officials from other countries in
the region, several senior U.S. diplomats, and officials from the
European Union and NATO.  It was a decisive moment.

Building on this remarkable change in atmosphere, by that evening PER
had set up a private and confidential meeting between Covic and Serbian
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Dusan Mihajlovic on the
Serbian side, and Prime Minister Rexhepi and Kosovo Assembly President
Nexhat Daci on the Kosovar Albanian side.  Livia Plaks, PER Executive
Director, and Alex Grigor’ev, PER Program Officer, joined me; the only
others present were the Albanian interpreter and Covic's and
Mihajlovic's chiefs of staff.

These officials sketched out a tentative agenda for future talks,
without prejudice to the resolution of the final status of Kosovo, to
include among other issues the return of displaced persons, mutual
assistance in tracing missing persons, exchange of information
concerning war crimes, the establishment of mutual taxation
arrangements, coordinated efforts against organized crime and
trafficking, the expansion of trade and commerce, improvement of
infrastructure and the like.  On some of these issues, they said,
immediate results are possible.  Both sides acknowledged that their
exchanges would have to take into account the provisions of UN
resolution 1244.  All four officials stressed that Kosovo and Serbia
share common goals of Euro-Atlantic integration.

On the following day Covic turned to the participants with a request
that PER reconvene the roundtable in January, with one session in
Belgrade and another in Pristina.  It is vital to keep the momentum of
this Belgrade-Pristina rapprochement.

There were many other important events at the meeting, including the
first public discussions between Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister
Radmila Sekerinska, General Secretary of the ruling Social Democratic
Union of Macedonia Gorgi Spasov, and Ali Ahmeti, the Macedonian Albanian
who had headed last year's armed action against government forces.  Both
sides confirmed their respect for the principles of the Ohrid agreement
but agreed that it is impossible to meet the timetable set by the
agreement.  They concluded that the most difficult issue that awaits the
new government is the process of decentralization.  They also
highlighted the importance of changing perspectives on both sides and
creating better conditions for reconciliation.  Sekerinska has requested
that PER convene in early 2003 senior politicians from the governing
coalition to review the first six months of joint governing and devise a
reconciliation strategy.  

PER will issue a report on the meeting in due course.

The Lucerne roundtable was supported by the Swiss Federal Department for
Foreign Affairs.

Allen H. Kassof

Project on Ethnic Relations
15 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08542-3707, USA
Tel. 609-683-5666
Fax 419-858-4443 or 609-683-5888
PER e-mail:  per@per-usa.org
PER Web Site: www.per-usa.org