14 November 2006

UN to propose checklist for gradual Kosovo independence

Deutsche Presse Agentur, Tuesday October 31, 2006 By Fatmir Aliu


Pristina- The UN envoy to the Kosovo status talks, Martti Ahtisaari, is set to propose a checklist plan which would gradually lead Serbia's breakaway province from conditional to full independence, a Western diplomat said Tuesday in Pristina. The package needs to be fine-tuned by Ahtisaari and the Contact Group during the first few half of November. If the plans work out, the package would then be passed to Serbian and Kosovar leaderships.


"He is expected to present his plan to Belgrade and Pristina in the third week of November, after cross-checking with the big powers," the Brussels-based diplomat said.


The Contact Group - US, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy - wants Kosovo to emerge from the legal limbo in which it has been since 1999, when NATO ousted Belgrade's security forces to end ethnic bloodshed, and a UN administration took over.


Ahtisaari launched talks of Belgrade and Pristina in February, hoping to forge a compromise solution for Kosovo's status. However, Belgrade continues to insist on sovereignty over the province, while majority Albanian leaders expect full and quick independence.


The status package to be revealed by Ahtisaari includes "conditions" which would gradually be checked off, as upcoming Kosovo authorities implement them one-by-one.


A key, general criterion will be that corruption must be rooted out from government structures and the rule of law be enforced, the diplomat told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.


"From Kosovo institutions, we expect to combat corruption ... as proof that they are ready to assume responsibility for their full independence," he added.


Overall, Kosovo would have an army - of around 1,200 NATO-rained professional soldiers - a foreign ministry and a ministry for European integration to coordinate with the future European Union presence, the diplomat said.


Protection of minorities, a particular concern of Belgrade, would be vested in the new constitution, the diplomat said.


Minorities would have 10 seats guaranteed in the 120-seat parliament and their votes would count double in issues of concern to them, such as education, culture, health and religion.


Albanians make up 90 per cent of the population in Kosovo, with the Serbs being the next-largest ethnic group. The Serbs are worried that they would be driven from their homes in an independent Kosovo.


Antisaari would delay his proposal only if Serbia schedules parliamentary elections in 2006. "Postponement will be unacceptable unless elections are to be held this year," the diplomat said.


The West is concerned that the outcome of Kosovo status talks could boost the already powerful extremist Radical Party in Serbia, perhaps even helping it assume power in Belgrade. In that context, they would accept to reveal the package after the polls.


Serbia last weekend backed a new constitution in a referendum, which was to be quickly followed by early elections.


However, politicians are arguing over the date and terms of the parliamentary poll, making the quick scheduling increasingly unlikely.