PRISTINA, Kosovo, Dec. 9 — As Kosovo moves closer to declaring its independence, fears are rising that Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo’s north could take steps to try to disrupt the province’s shaky economy and scare off countries ready to recognize it as a sovereign state.
Senior United Nations officials say they are particularly worried that the Serbian government will direct Kosovo’s Serbs to disrupt most of the province’s power supply and assert partial control of the north by having Serb police officers break away from the province’s police force. Such moves could further inflame tensions between the province’s ethnic Albanians and Serbs, possibly leading to violence.
Kosovo, which has a majority of ethnic Albanians, has been trying to break away from Serbia, but Serbia has vehemently fought to keep the province. Negotiations between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders and Serbia over the province’s fate have gone nowhere, and the United Nations — which administers Kosovo and is trying to broker an agreement — has said the talks should not drag past Monday.
The United Nations is then expected to begin deliberations about its next possible step. Western diplomats in Brussels and Pristina suggest the United Nations will invite the European Union to replace the United Nations mission in the province, and leave it to individual countries to decide if they should recognize Kosovo as an independent nation.
Aid agencies, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, have already drawn up contingency plans for an exodus of 5,000 to 100,000 refugees, many of which they expect will be ethnic Serbs..
While the Serbian government has repeatedly emphasized that it wants to avoid any violence in the province, it has promised to stop trade with Kosovo and begin economic sanctions if it declares independence.
United Nations officials say a trade cutoff would not be especially damaging because Kosovo already does most of its trading with Macedonia. But they are worried that economic sanctions could include disrupting the supply of electricity, which could cause major problems in an economy that already is one of Europe’s poorest.
The province’s main power plant, which supplies 75 percent of Kosovo’s electricity, runs on water supplied from the north, where Serbia still retains substantial control. In addition, Serbia could cut some of the province’s other power by stopping the transmission of electricity from Europe, which runs on power lines through Serbia.
Even more alarming, United Nations officials say, is the possibility that ethnic Serb members of Kosovo’s police force could quit and adopt Serbian uniforms, a move that might provoke attacks from hard-line ethnic Albanian groups.
“I have no information that that kind of thing will happen, but we have to address it,” said Steven Schook, the principal deputy representative of the United Nations administration. “It would be irresponsible not to.”
He declined to say what steps the United Nations was taking to try preventing a split in the police force, although NATO troops have increased patrols in the northern region.
Some foreign observers are worried Kosovo could declare independence as early as Monday, but Mr. Schook said he expected the province to wait until next year, and the likely leader of the region’s next government, Hashim Thaci, recently said he had the same expectation.
Source: The New York Times