16 November 2006

Annan says Kosovo status decision may be delayed

Reuters, Sat Nov 4, 2006 3:18 PM GMT


ZAGREB (Reuters) - A decision on Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia could be delayed until next year following Serbia's general elections, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was quoted on Saturday as saying.


Annan made the comments in an interview with the Croatian daily Vjesnik, in which he spoke of his talks with the U.N. special envoy on Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, about Serbia's October constitutional referendum.


"Considering the referendum, and the fact that they want elections in Serbia, we have to be cautious. Ahtisaari also has to be cautious so that the issue of the final status of Kosovo is not used for pre-electoral purposes," Annan told the paper.


"A proposal on Kosovo must be presented at a right time, that's the key. So we may not stick to the deadlines we had originally planned."


The Contact Group on Kosovo -- comprising the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy -- has insisted its aim is to resolve the issue by the end of this year, although Russia says it should not be bound by "artificial deadlines".


Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate for the past seven years. NATO bombed Serbia for nearly three months in 1999 to force the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic to pull his troops out of the southern province where 10,000 ethnic Albanians had been killed in a counter-insurgency war.




Serbia strongly opposes demands by Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority for independence, insisting international law backs maintaining its sovereignty and territorial integrity.


The Albanians say Serbia wants the land, but not its people, and Western powers sympathise with their demand for self-determination within their own borders.


Annan, whose term is close to its end, expressed his confidence in Ahtisaari, who has been criticised by Belgrade for alleged anti-Serb bias, and said the process could extend into next year.


"I expect Ahtisaari will remain U.N. special envoy. As for the (Kosovo) negotiations, it is not excluded that they are extended into 2007," Vjesnik quoted him as saying.


The envoy has mediated face-to-face talks between Serb and Kosovo Albanian leaders since February, with no hint of compromise on the central issue of the province's future status.


The West is wary of giving ultranationalist Serbs a boost over pro-Western parties by imposing a Kosovo solution before an election is held, probably in December. Leaks of Ahtisaari's proposals indicate Kosovo would get a path to eventual statehood, after a period in the tutelage of the European Union.


But the West also fears delaying a decision may incite violence by Kosovo Albanian extremists who suspect they people may be cheated of independence by a big power decision to appease Serbia.