Independence is the logical conclusion of the Kosovo war

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The Independent Online

Who is afraid of independence for Kosovo? Independence has been the Great Unmentionable for most of the alliance of democratic nations which rescued the Albanian majority in the province from Slobodan Milosevic in the war last year.

Who is afraid of independence for Kosovo? Independence has been the Great Unmentionable for most of the alliance of democratic nations which rescued the Albanian majority in the province from Slobodan Milosevic in the war last year.

That taboo should be broken, even if this may not be the most diplomatic moment to do so from the point of view of providing succour to Vojislav Kostunica, the newly-elected president of Yugoslavia who ousted Milosevic earlier this month. But the democratic Serbia which is emerging from the wreckage of dictatorship will not in the end be helped if its new friends around the world tiptoe delicately around the truth. The new Serbia must be able to look reality in the eye, and the reality is that Kosovo is effectively an independent state already. If the US State Department is, as we report today, trying to reopen the issue of independence, it is right to do so.

The way to bolster the new democratic forces in Belgrade is not to hold out false hopes of putting either Yugoslavia or Greater Serbia back together again, but to hasten the process by which all the former republics of Yugoslavia can benefit economically from integrating with the European market and, ultimately, joining the European Union.

The people with the most right to fear Kosovo's independence are clearly the Serb minority there, now much less than one tenth of the population. But the results of the weekend's local elections provide them with some limited comfort. That the party of the pacifist Ibrahim Rugova should have prevailed over the successors of the Kosovo Liberation Army - whose leaders elbowed Mr Rugova aside during the war - suggests that the Albanian people are content to pursue the less aggressive of two possible paths to statehood.

Of course, the Serbs were unrepresented in these elections, because they boycotted them, and they need continued protection against the tyranny of the majority. In the long term, they are more likely to obtain protection if the legitimate desire of the moderate majority of Albanians for national self-determination is recognised.

An independent Kosovo, landlocked, tiny and poor, has not been possible in the history of the Balkans to date. Nor was it a war aim of the Nato alliance in last year's bombing campaign. But it is possible and indeed desirable now, provided the values for which that war was fought are respected, namely those of defending the human rights of a minority against its more numerous neighbours.

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