Last-ditch efforts to find a solution to the problem of Kosovo failed on Wednesday -- as expected.
Three days of talks involving Serbia, the Kosovo-Albanians and envoys from the European Union, the United States and Russia had failed to produce an agreement for the future status of Kosovo that would be palatable to both sides. Now it looks increasingly likely the Kosovo-Albanians will declare independence from Serbia after the Dec. 10 deadline when the envoys are due to report back to the United Nations.
The only glimmer of hope was that the rival sides pledged to refrain from the use of force. "Both sides have made it clear to us that they are committed to avoiding violence," EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger said after the talks in the Austrian town of Baden failed to find a way out of the deadlock. "The peace of the region is very much at stake," his US counterpart Frank Wisner said. "We're going to have a very difficult time."
Kosovo leaders have said that they will declare independence unilaterally if they do not gain UN Security Council approval -- something that is highly unlikely given that Russia, Serbia's key ally, intends to block recognition.
The province, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has been administered by the UN since the war in 1998-99 when Albanian guerrillas fought Serb security forces. Over 10,000 civilians were killed and 800,000 forced to flee before NATO brought a halt to Serbia's offensive with three months of bombing.
A previous plan for eventual independence put forward by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari was rejected by Serbia last summer and then blocked by Russia's Security Council veto. The UN then embarked on new diplomatic efforts to end Kosovo's limbo.
During the recent talks, Serbia had offered the province autonomy but the Kosovo-Albanians, encouraged by the United States, were unwilling to compromise and have insisted on nothing short of independence. Serbia is insisting that any unilateral declaration would violate international law and is drawing up plans which may include embargos and blockades. Serbia and Russia claim an independent Kosovo could trigger a domino effect in the region.
German papers are united in accepting that Kosovo will eventually declare independence and warn that this could have serious consequences for the region and for the European Union's foreign policy.
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Kosovo ... will declare independence unilaterally, probably in the spring. The politicians in the West will be able to say that they had wanted a different development and did everything conceivable to achieve that -- but things are the way they are. And it will then be time to quickly recognize this reality: the state of Kosovo. For the EU that will be a severe test. Only a short time ago countries with minorities were reluctant to reward the separatism of the Albanians in any way. Now, in the face of the complete lack of prospects for any other option, only Cyprus looks like blocking it."
"The example of the neighboring states would support the quick recognition of Kosovo. When Slovenia and Croatia declared independence a decade and a half ago, the EU had a lot of misgivings. The speedy recognition was criticized by many as a fatal mistake. But from today's perspective, it seemed to stablize both countries, and was exactly the right move."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Wolfgang Ischinger failed due to the intransigence of the Albanians. They want only one thing: independence None of the suggestions the Serbs made during the 120-day negotiations had the slightest chance. Why should the Albanians settle for autonomy when George W. Bush had already promised them their own state?"
"The EU mission in Kosovo has to have a sensible legal basis and the EU must unanimously accept an independence that is no longer avoidable."
"Both need time -- time the Albanians in their independence delirium dont want to take. Europe now has to try to exert a moderating influence on the leaders in Pristina. Because if independence is declared before the spring, it would have massive consequences for Serbian domestic politics. The Serbs are due to elect a new president at the start of next year. There is no doubt that the pro-European President Boris Tadic would lose to his radical opponent if Kosovo is independent by then. That could be fatal -- for Serbia and for the Balkans."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"In a few days the clock will start to tick -- and then a series of events will be set in motion which has something fatalistic about it: The Kosovars will declare independence, America and the majority of EU states will recognize them, Serbia and Russia will furiously denounce the violation of international law (with Moscow playing a double game) and there will be unrest in Bosnia. The only thing that is clear is that the international community will be present in Kosovo for a long time -- and it will also have to have a military presence."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The Albanians have spent eight years in a transitional phase, during which everything has stagnated, the economy has not developed and politics has been paralyzed. One cannot leave 2 million people permanently stranded just because the big powers cannot agree. The human right to pursue happiness, as laid down in the American Declaration of Independence, is also valid for Kosovars."
"The Balkans is going to become a test case for Europe's foreign policy once again. This failed miserably in the 1990s when Yugoslavia tore itself apart in a series of wars. Now the Europeans have to prove that they have learnt from previous mistakes and can act as the peacekeeping power in the Balkans and prevent new conflicts."
-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:45 p.m. CET