08 December 2006

Kosovo: Ahtisaari to make status proposal in March



Vienna, 10 Nov. (AKI) - The United Nations special envoy for the breakway Serbian province of Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari will present his proposal for the future status of Serbia's southern Kosovo province, immediately after early parliamentary elections in Serbia, scheduled for 21 January, his office in Vienna said on Friday.The former president of Finland, Ahtisaari has overseen UN-led negotiations this year between Belgrade and Kosovo ethnic Albanians which have yielded scarce results.


He was due to publicly unveil the proposal this year, but his decision was postponed on the insistence of the European Union with the obvious aim of blocking the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party from winning parliamentary elections and taking power.


Ahtisaari's statement was made following a meeting with the six-nation Contact Group for Kosovo. The group, made up of UN Security Council permanent members the United States, Great Britain, Russia and France, as well as Germany and Italy, is supposed to accept Ahtisaari's proposal and pass it on to the UN Security Council for final approval.


Western powers have hinted they were in favor of independence, sought by most of Kosovo's overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian majority, but fear that Russia and China might block the proposal by using veto power.


According to reports from Western capitals, European powers and the United States might ultimately bypass the UN Security Council and leave to each country to recognise Kosovo independence individually to circumvent the problem of a Russian veto at the top UN decision-making body.


Ethnic Albanian leaders in the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo said on Thursday they are ready to unilaterally declare independence if the UN Security Council postpones a decision on the future status of the province, expected this year. Most of Kosovo's overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, which is opposed by Belgrade and by the tiny minority of Serbs remaining in the province.


Kosovo has been under UN control since 1999. Violence flared in the province when the Kosovo Liberation Army, supported by ethnic Albanians, came out in open rebellion against Serbian rule in the mid-1990s, sparking a brutal Yugoslav military crackdown.


Serbian forces began an 'ethnic cleansing' campaign against up to half of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians in 1999 triggering a NATO bombing campaign that drove Serb forces from the province. Some 800,000 people fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro and approximately 10,000 died in the conflict.


Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo outnumber Serbs by 17 to one. Over 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since it was put under UN control and some 3,000 have been killed or listed as missing, according to the International Red Cross. It believes about 1,500 have been murdered.