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Kosovo, Serbia close to deal but questions remain

  • Article by: NEBI QENA
  • Associated Press
  • April 22, 2013 - 10:57 AM

PRISTINA, Kosovo - Kosovo's prime minister summed up sentiment on both sides: "Don't expect us to start loving each other." Hashim Thaci spoke days after he reached a deal with his Serbian counterpart to normalize ties — a potentially historic breakthrough that could bury an era of conflict.

The tentative agreement brokered last week by the European Union sets out rules on how Kosovo and Serbia will live side-by-side as separate states, the first step in the long process for both to win membership in the bloc.

While there's no doubt a turning point is at hand, Thaci's comment captures the prevalent feeling that an end to the acrimony is a long way off. Belgrade insists the territory is an integral part of Serbia, while Pristina says it will never be ruled by Belgrade again. Here is a look at key issues:

WHO SUPPORTS KOSOVO?

Kosovo's 2008 secession was strongly backed by the United States and EU heavyweights Britain, France, Italy and Germany. Turkey was also among the first countries to recognize Kosovo's independence. So far over 95 countries have recognized Kosovo, mostly thanks to U.S.-led diplomacy. But Serbia has an important patron in Russia. And five EU members — Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia — oppose Kosovo independence, fearing it could set an example for separatist sentiment in their own countries.

WHO'S IN CHARGE?

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian dominated institutions based in the capital Pristina control most of the small landlocked territory of about 1.8 million people. The exception is the northern part that is controlled by local Serbs, supported by manpower and money from Belgrade. Overall security is in the hands of a NATO-led 5,500-strong peacekeeping force. The European Union has a mission in Kosovo of about 3,000 police and justice workers who deal with delicate issues such as war crimes, organized crime and corruption.

HOW DID IT ALL START?

The dispute between ethnic Serbs and Albanians over the small landlocked territory dates back centuries. Serbia has sought to control the territory it views as a national heartland, while ethnic Albanians have always wanted to rule on their own. In the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo was an autonomous region within Serbia until 1989, when nationalists in Belgrade revoked self-rule. Tensions simmered until 1998 and exploded in bloody conflict following the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE WAR?

Serbia's nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic responded with brutal force to an ethnic Albanian rebellion, killing civilians and wiping out entire villages. Led by the United States, NATO intervened in March 1999, unleashing a 78-day bombing campaign that finally forced Milosevic to pull out from Kosovo and allow NATO to move in. About 10,000 people died in the war and many atrocities were committed.

IS THERE STILL THREAT OF WAR?

An all-out war is unlikely, but Kosovo — squeezed between Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia — remains tense. There are occasional violent incidents, particularly in the Serb-dominated north, where the central government has little authority. Another threat to Kosovo stability is widespread corruption and organized crime.

WHAT NOW?

Both sides will have to agree on the details of how the deal is implemented on the ground. Kosovo wants NATO and the EU mission, EULEX, to establish rule of law in Kosovo's north for an interim period, until ethnic Serbs there accept Pristina's authority. Serb leaders in the north have rejected the deal.

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