Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Albanian leader in plea for Kosovo independence

EU Obserer - 22 June 2006

The Albanian prime minister, Sali Berisha, has said Kosovo should become an independent state, while rejecting the idea of the territory uniting with his own country.

Kosovo legally belongs to Serbia but has been under UN administration since the EU and the US intervened to stop ethnic clashes in the region in 1999.

The Albanian leader, speaking before the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday (22 June), said Serbia had demonstrated "no realism whatsoever" over the Kosovo issue.

UN and EU-sponsored negotiations on the possibility of Kosovan independence are currently ongoing, but Serbia is only prepared to grant autonomy to the territory not fully-fledged secession.

"The wish of Kosovo toward independence, demonstrated more than once, should be respected," Mr Berisha said, arguing Belgrade should demonstrate the same kind of "realism" on Kosovo as on Montenegro which declared independence last month.

Ethnic Albanians, pushing for independence, make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million-strong population, with ethnic Serbs making up around 8 percent.

But Mr Berisha rejected a suggestion by UK Conservative MEP Charles Tannock that the territory could be partitioned and possibly split between Albania and Serbia.

"All opinions [in Kosovo] are to join Brussels not Tirana," the Albanian leader said. "Since two centuries, two Albanian realities have developed one in Pristina and one in Tirana," he added.

Some observers have called for an explicit reference in a future Kosovo settlement that Pristina will not in the future seek to join Tirana in a "greater Albania."

The International Crisis Group, a high-profile think tank, in a report last year wrote that a status deal should include that "Kosovo would be explicitly committed not to unify with Albania."

The EU's conditions for a future status include that the territory should not be partitioned, but the bloc has had difficulties sticking to that common position.

The Czech prime minister Jiri Paroubek said in November "A solution could be dividing the territory on ethnic lines. The northern part of the region would belong to Serbia, and the majority of the southern part could be given the status of an independent nation," according to press reports.

The union has recently signalled greater interest for Serbia's feelings after a series of painful events for Serb national pride - including Montenegran independence - with support for the nationalist radical opposition in Belgrade on the rise.

"A peaceful and prosperous Serbia fully integrated into the family of European nations is very important for the stability of the region," last week's EU leaders summit conclusions read, with foreign ministers devoting almost all their summit dinner to the issue.