06 February 2007

Fate of Serbia's breakaway region of Kosovo sparks U.S.-Russia tug-of-war

Associated Press, Wednesday, December 06, 2006 3:52 AM


BRUSSELS, Belgium-The United States and Russia are engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war over the breakaway region of Kosovo, which is awaiting a final U.N. recommendation on whether it will become an independent nation or remain part of Serbia.


Washington supports conditional independence for Kosovo and wants to set a timetable. Moscow, Serbia's traditional ally, is against establishing a schedule and says a solution much be found that satisfies both sides.


"We've long taken the position that now being seven years since war ended in Kosovo in 1999, it's time to give people of Kosovo a certain sense of their future," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said this week on the sidelines of a conference of the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe


The situation is complicated by the fact that the Kremlin has signaled it would support Kosovo independence if it is allowed to serve as a precedent for other Moscow-backed separatist movements in former Soviet republics, a position rejected by Washington.


Moscow endorses the independence claims of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which have been fighting to break away from Georgia since the early 1990s, and those of Moldova's pro-Russian Trans-Dniester province.


Washington claims that Kosovo is a unique case and that any solution imposed by the United Nations there cannot be replicated elsewhere.


Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when NATO drove Serbian forces out of the mainly Albanian inhabited province to prevent a campaign of ethnic cleansing.


A U.N. envoy is due to deliver a final recommendation early next year on whether the province should gain independence or remain a self-governing part of Serbia.


Ethnic Albanians, who comprise 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people, are demanding independence, but Serbia insists that it must remain a self-governing part of Serbia.


Washington expects the upcoming U.N. ruling, prepared by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, to result in conditional independence for Kosovo despite Serbia's objections.


Burns insisted this week that because of Kosovo's status as a ward of the United Nations it could not be compared to breakaway regions that are unrecognized by the international community.


"The United States expects that after (the Jan. 21 parliamentary elections in Serbia), President Ahtisaari would put forward his plan for final status of Kosovo," he said. "We then anticipate that the U.N. Security Council would be asked to pass resolution concerning final status of Kosovo."


"We would want that to happen very quickly: let's say a month or so following Serb elections in late January," Burns said.


But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov immediately rejected that proposal. Moscow wields veto power in the Security Council, and Russia's ambassador in Belgrade indicated on Monday that it may use it to prevent Kosovo's independence.


"The solution could be only a negotiated solution and I do not see how the Security Council could associate itself with any idea, which would mean imposing decision to one of the parties," Lavrov said.


Another complication is the long-established principle of the territorial inviolability of all nations. Analysts have noted that a breakup of Serbia could even have repercussions on far-flung countries such as Indonesia, whose provinces of Papua and Aceh are seeking the right of self-determination.


Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who chaired the OSCE meeting in Brussels, said Kosovo is a special case because there is an "unbridgeable rift" between Serbia and Kosovo's Albanians.


"It is a universal principle to respect territorial integrity of all nations," Rupel told The Associated Press. "But the problem of Serbia and Kosovo is very delicate (because) there can be no agreement between them."