BELGRADE, March 25, RIA Novosti commentator Sergei RYABIKIN

The burnt out Serb houses and Orthodox churches in Kosovo are still smouldering, while hundreds of Serbs are still hiding in KFOR military bases, but the clashes and murderous attacks have been stopped. The time has come to ponder the tragedy of the past few days.

The bitterest result of mass violence is that the Kosovo problem has not been solved since the world community pledged to tackle it five years ago. The Kosovo crisis has certain features that distinguish it from the ethnic clashes in other parts of the world. Cyprus, where the confrontation between the Greeks and Turks has lasted for 30 years, has a disengagement line. It cannot unite the two nations, but it does help to prevent clashes that can lead to mass bloodshed.

But in Kosovo the Serb and Albanian communities live side by side and ethnic intolerance is so strong that it may trigger off an explosion not just in the Serb province of Kosovo but in the whole of the Balkans. The smallest spark would suffice, even if an imaginary one. The latest clashes were provoked by the tragic death of three Albanian children, who drowned in a local river. As a result, ruthless fighting developed into the murderous campaigns against the Serb minority, which lives in a kind of enclaves. Putting the crisis on ice (as it was done in Cyprus decades ago) would not be effective in Kosovo.

Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly described the tragedy in Kosovo as ethnic persecution. It is indicative that this is the opinion of not only Russian leaders, who can be accused of traditional Serb sympathies, but also of Admiral Gregory Johnson, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Force in South Europe. The admiral denounced anti-Serb violence as ethnic persecution, and other Western politicians and military share his view.

This time the international community has taken a common stand, which was reflected in the statement of the UN Security Council on Kosovo. The Albanian extremists in Kosovo were accused of planning and organising the pogrom of the Serb minority. This new wave of violence reduced to naught the efforts of the international community to solve the Kosovo problem peacefully. The situation in the province was thrown back to 1999.

Harri Holkeri, head of the UN mission in Kosovo, admitted as much, saying that the plan which the international community has been trying to implement all these years is no longer feasible and a new concept on Kosovo will be most probably adopted soon.

The outlines of this new concept are not discernible so far. Even industrialised countries, which value democracy and human rights and respect civilised norms of relations between people, sometimes have problems connected with ethnic contacts. Take France, which, seeking to protect the secular nature of the state, adopted a law prohibiting ethnic minorities to wear religious attributes. What can one say about less developed and poor states and territories populated by ethnic groups that come into daily contact with alien national and religious thinking? You can imagine what happens when some of ethnic features are aggressively religious.

The bitter examples are provided by the growing threat of international terrorism, which comes above all from radical Muslim quarters. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has advanced a concept for the de-centralisation of Kosovo in an attempt to solve the Kosovo crisis by turning the province into a federal structure, as it done in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While politicians and the international community ponder the idea, the Kosovo problem can be solved in some other way. The Albanian extremists have long devised a plan. While the West was trying to convince them to become democratic and correct, vital steps have been taken in Kosovo to solve the problem. The process was launched several decades ago, when Slavic and other non-Albanian groups started leaving that ancestrally Serbian and Orthodox province.

The Yugoslavian "father of the nation," Josep Broz Tito, attempted to solve the problem in his time. After the Second World War, he prohibited Serbs from returning to their home province. After the NATO bombings and the deployment of bloc troops in the province five years ago, at least 250,000 Serbs fled the province for fear of the Albanians. Before the latest wave of attacks, there were fewer than 100,000 Serbs and about 2 million Albanians in Kosovo.

We should proceed from the assumption that Serbs will continue to flee from their home province because their life is in danger there. Kosovo is quickly approaching the line beyond which it may be considered "an ethnically pure territory." This is exactly what the organisers of attacks and armed methods of squeezing non-Albanians from the province want - no Serbs, no problems.

The main goal of the extremists and moderate Albanian leaders of Kosovo is to make it an independent state. No wonder that at the height of massacres the Kosovo Parliament, where Albanians are in the majority, adopted a statement according to which only the proclamation of independence would normalise the situation.

And yet, the latest developments can be seen as the defeat of the Kosovo extremists. The world community cannot allow into its family a territory where the generally recognised norms of life are not guaranteed or practised.

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