One fledgling nation can learn from triumphs and mistakes of another

TO a sea of Albanian and American flags, Prime Minister Hasim Thaci called the republic of Kosovo into being last Sunday week, setting off a diplomatic firestorm, raising Russian- backed Serbian ire and sparking fears that minority ethnic groups from Spain to China would have a new basis for resistance.

Kosovo can draw from examples elsewhere, as well as set what Sri Lanka described as “an unmanageable precedent”.

East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta awoke from an induced coma on Thursday, after an assassination/coup attempt by his former military police chief. The 1996 Nobel peace laureate will have seen Kosovo follow Montenegro and his own former Indonesian garrison into statehood.

Montenegro, like Kosovo, was part of Yugoslavia. However, distant Timor arguably has more resonances for Kosovo, with Montenegro well on its way to prosperity and stability

In 1999, just weeks after Nato routed Serb forces from Kosovo, East Timor broke with Jakarta, after a brutal military occupation However, political stability is in tatters today. The hit on Ramos-Horta came just a week before Kosovo broke with Belgrade — prompting Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern to nominate Nuala O’Loan as a conflict resolution troubleshooter during his visit to Dili last week. The former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman told this newspaper that her role will initially “be a listening exercise, to understand the issues and see how we can assist”.

Timor gained formal independence in 2002: A UN and “international community” nation-building poster-child. Just as the west helped Muslim Kosovo break from Orthodox Christian Serbia, it aided Catholic East Timor split from Muslim Indonesia.

And the West will help Kosovo become viable. “In dependence” more aptly describes Pristina’s supervised sovereignty: Under an EU mission, bolstered by Nato-led peacekeepers, and circumscribed by a prohibition on unity with Albania.

Timor’s international love-in is wearing thin, so Ms O’Loan’s listening brief will be apposite. Timorese security services are taking matters into their own hands, sidelining Australian-led peacekeepers and UN police. According to a well-placed Dili source speaking on condition of anonymity, the army has taken control of the police. Ms O’Loan’s extensive overseas police advisory experience will be vital, as the 2006 collapse of Timor’s army and then police leads into its present crisis.

Both countries feature mass youth unemployment. Both are resource-rich: Oil and gas off Timor’s southern coast and coffee on the jungled hills. Kosovo has lignite coal reserves which will stay in the ground unless future stability can attract foreign investment. Timor has massive tourist potential, but must solve its security problems.

Kosovo will likely face protracted birth pangs, despite international wet- nursing, while East Timor has been tottering for two years, despite being led by the international community’s hand. Kosovo’s advantage is that it is in Europe, and will, in the long term, want EU membership. But that process will require all EU member-states to agree on recognising it.

Kosovars fervently believe that they deserve independence, and taken as a discrete case, it is hard to argue otherwise, given Serb oppression inflicted since 1989 under Slobodan Milosevic. However, as the Clint Eastwood character in The Unforgiven put it: “Deserves got nothin to do with it”. If it had, then Kurds, South Sudanese, Palestinians, Tibetans and Chechens would all be next-up on the to-do list of state-creation.

At a Serb demonstration in Mitrovica last Wednesday, Milan Simonic, from Nis, Serbia’s third city, told this reporter that “we will fight for Kosovo in every way possible”. He said that hundreds of Serbs had crossed into Kosovo’s majority-Serb municipalities, after mobs torched and bulldozed two border posts earlier that day.

Serbia is reacting to the perceived humiliation of losing Kosovo by reviving the old-school nationalism that rent the Balkans during the 1990s. Even if Serb regular forces do not attempt to retake Kosovo, expect partition. Belgrade controls the region north of Mitrovica. But, in a line that could have been lifted out of the Michael Collins movie, “we will never accept losing the north” was the reaction from Albanians in Pristina and Mitrovica, ignoring Serbs demonstrating across the River Ibar that divides their city. Given present tensions, the Irish Government might need to find a counterpart to Ms O’Loan for Kosovo.

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