Sar planina, at the border betwen Macedonia and Kosovo

A last round of public disquiet over the border issue between Macedonia and Kosovo seems appeased with yesterday's visit to Skopje of Kosovo Prime Minister Mr. Agim Ceku. The border issue is of technical nature, they agreed, and it cannot disrupt neighborly relations

11/05/2006 -  Risto Karajkov Skopje

A last round of public disquiet over the border issue between Macedonia and Kosovo seems appeased with yesterday's visit to Skopje of Kosovo Prime Minister Mr. Agim Ceku.

Prime Minister Ceku was received yesterday by his Macedonian counterpart Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski - the first ever Kosovar government leader to be ushered into the government building (previous meetings had been taking place in more informal premises) - and both leaders went out of the meeting with coordinated and reassuring statements about the issue that again proves to have destabilizing potential for the two neighbors.

The border issue is of technical nature, they concluded, and it cannot disrupt neighborly relations. It didn't seem like that only several days ago, in the run up to the meeting, when statements from Skopje and Pristina echoed increasingly dissenting tones and for a moment the visit of Mr. Ceku was even brought into question.

Macedonia has an agreement on the border with former Yugoslavia, which Kosovo doesn't recognize. Macedonia would want to have the border demarcated before the decision on the final status of Kosovo, whereas Kosovo leaders want to deal with it only after a final status solutions has been reached. Things are further complicated by the lack of mandate on the Kosovo part to make such a deal - as it is under UN administration, and by the Serb sensitivity to the issue. For its part Macedonia essentially fears possible destabilization should the issue remain open and its attempts have been along the line of asking guarantees that the border could not be changed.

"After the talks with the Prime Minister of Kosovo and yesterday's declaration by all political parties, it becomes clear that the demarcation of the border is not a political but a technical issue, and such is the treatment it will have from here on", stated Mr. Buckovski upon the meeting. "With the clearly expressed political will in Kosovo, what remains is that we politicians have a joint photo next to a rock at the day of demarcation and to have all this story ended", added reassuringly Mr. Buckovski. According to him "no politician from Kosovo wanted at any point in time to dispute the former administrative border or if you want, the state border between Kosovo and Macedonia".

"The line of the administrative border from former Yugoslavia will be the border which we will demarcate when on the other side there will be a partner with international legitimacy to have this done", added thereat Mr. Buckovski.

Prime Minister Ceku concurred. "I have nothing to add or subtract from the yesterday's statement of the Kosovo Government. The position is very clear. We depart from the principle that there cannot be any change of borders, which is also the position of the Contact Group and we fully support it. I have nothing to add to it. The position of the Kosovo Government is clear - demarcation is a technical matter which we will resolve in a friendly manner, when time is right", stated Mr. Ceku to the press.

Downplaying the entire issue Mr. Buckovski said talk over it lasted a few minutes only. He denied that tension was ever raised between Skopje and Pristina.

A day before Mr. Ceku's visit, his Government adopted a statement confirming the unchangeableness of the border which on the Macedonian side was welcomed as the needed guarantee against possible future destabilization, thus Skopje retreated from its position - demarcation before the final status.

This appears to conclude at least for the time being the latest border episode between the neighbors. A similar episode had its peak in May of last year.

This should not mean that it is closed once and for all.

In the run up to the meeting the Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic reminded through the press that "Belgrade is in charge of discussing the demarcation of the border".

"Only Belgrade is in charge of any changes of Serbia's borders and the agreement with Macedonia is in force and deposited in the UN" stated Mr. Draskovic further. According to him, Albanians have to respect Serbia's internationally recognized borders.

The situation is inevitably complicated by the need to coordinate the positions of the numerous actors involved. Earlier this year the chief of the Stability Pact Mr. Erhard Busek said for Voice of America that keeping the issue aside of the negotiations over Kosovo's status helps the overall situation.

The leader of the Socialist Party in Albania, Mr. Edi Rama stated recently that only Kosovo can be the partner to discuss the issue.

"It is a question which should be discussed by Kosovars themselves after they get independence", stated Mr. Rama.

Things were not coordinated inside the Macedonian team either. Whereas Prime Minister Buckovski was much involved in a dialogue with Pristina, President Branko Crvenkovski held the position that Macedonia shouldn't again discuss the issue which it had agreed upon with Belgrade.

"I see neither reason nor need why we should sign an agreement over the same thing with anyone again", said recently President Crvenkovski.

In his view, "legally speaking, according to Resolution 1244 Belgrade could be the partner but it has no presence on the ground, whereas Pristina does but it has no international legitimacy".

The dissenting views of the President and the Prime Minster were also interpreted by the press as a possible strategy whereby the former co-opts and appeases Belgrade whereas the latter is trying to reach an agreement with Pristina.

The US envoy for Kosovo, Mr. Frank Wisner who conducts an intensive series of meetings in the region seems to be in favor of an idea about a demarcation before a final status, at least as his position is interpreted in Macedonian media.

It will be after all the international community to make the decision, nevertheless it is good that Skopje and Pristina reached some common ground. Although it is absolutely unlikely that there will be any change of borders - after all the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, borders didn't move a centimeter - these cycles of border tension between Macedonia and Kosovo prove just how sensitive, although improbable as an option, this issue is in the Balkans.

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