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news 08 Feb 17

Serbia, Kosovo Should Swap Land, Ivor Roberts Says

Former UK ambassador to Belgrade says exchange of territory may be only way to stabilize relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

Marcus Tanner
Ivor Roberts | Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/ Flickr

Serbia and Kosovo should swap territories in order to achieve a lasting peace, the former British ambassador to Yugoslavia, Sir Ivor Roberts, said on Tuesday at the launch in London’s LSE of his book “Conversations with Milosevic”.

Addressing an audience that included the current Serbian ambassador to the UK, Sir Ivor said that while multi-ethnic states might be the ideal, in practice the exchange of the Presevo Valley in Serbia for land in Kosovo north of the river Ibar might be the only way to stabilize relations between and deliver Serbian recognition of an independent Kosovo state.

Sir Ivor said the hope was that borders in the Balkans, as elsewhere, would eventually become “marks of distinction” rather than separation - but that would only happen once the various national communities felt more secure and stable within their own entities than they do now.

Addressing questions about what ethnic land swaps would mean for the rest of the region, Macedonia and Bosnia in particular, Sir Ivor said the secession from Bosnia of the mainly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, would be hard to realize given Serbia’s own ambivalence to the idea and given the strong opposition this would arouse from Bosnia’s Bosniaks.

Addressing another question - about whether Western support for Kosovo’s independence had pushed Serbia into the arms of Russia - Sir Ivor said growing Russian influence in the Balkans was a consequence of “Russia’s resurgence”, which had happened independently of developments in Kosovo.

Russia had been a “marginalized” force in the Balkans when he had been a serving diplomat in the region, he recalled, but that had since changed, as Russia’s decisive influence in the war in Syria had demonstrated, he said.

Sir Ivor said that as British ambassador to Belgrade in the late-1990s, he had tried to persuade Serbia’s leader Slobodan Milosevic to halt the policy of violent oppression in Kosovo but in vain.

However, he said the origins of the Kosovo crisis long predated Milosevic and dated back to the London Conference of 1913, which had settled Balkan boundaries in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 in such a way as to leave left half the Albanian population outside the new Albanian state.

EU policy is firmly against territorial exchanges on the basis of ethnicity.

However, US Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher recently called for a similar land swap, also advocating a division of Macedonia between Albania and Bulgaria. Macedonia was “not a state”, he told Albanian TV. “Kosovars and Albanians in Macedonia should become part of Kosovo. The other part of Macedonia should become part of Bulgaria, or whatever country they allege to belong,” he said.

Sir Ivor was British ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1994 to 1997 and was later ambassador to Ireland and finally, Italy. He retired from the British Foreign Office in 2006 and is now President of Trinity College, Oxford University.



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