15 February 2007

Kosovo: Independence 'one of possible solutions' says UN Secretary General



New York, 14 Dec. (AKI) - United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has told the Security Council that the positions of Kosovo ethnic Albanians and Serbs remain diametrically opposed on the status of the province - which has been under U.N. control since 1999 - and that independence "would be one of possible solutions." Annan also warned that a postponement of any decision on Kosovo's future status could trigger unrest in the breakaway province.


In a regular quarterly report to the Security Council on the situation in Kosovo late on Wednesday, Annan said that only 15,600 out of 250,000 Serbs that had fled Kosovo since 1999, have returned, and that the return of refugees remained key to preserving Kosovo as a multi-ethnic society.


Annan said that both ethnic Albanians, who demand independence, and Serbs who oppose it, were as frustrated as the international community nears a decision on the Kosovo status, which is expected to be made soon after parliamentary elections in Serbia on 21 January. Annan warned that "the great expectations of Kosovo Albanians" might become a source of instability if the status decision was postponed. Pointing to the fact that ethnic Albanians make 90 percent of Kosovo's two million population, Annan said: "Independence would be one of possible solutions."


Sanda Raskovic Ivic, Serbian government coordinator for Kosovo, told the Security Council that Belgrade was ready to offer Kosovo ethnic Albanians "The autonomy that no other European or world country has offered to any of its regions," but not independence. She called for the resumption of UN sponsored talks had so far yielded no breakthrough, saying that only a compromise solution would enhance the stability of the entire region.


The chief U.N. administrator in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, said that considerable progress has been made in implementing democratic and human rights standards set by the international community, and warned that any postponements of the status decision would be detrimental to the general situation.


In a Security Council debate, most western countries leaned towards some sort of independence for Kosovo, but Russia and China insisted that the decision should be reached through negotiations and not imposed. Russian ambassador Vitaliy Churkin cautioned ethnic Albanians against threatening violence if their demands for independence were not met. "We can only interpret such statements as an unacceptable blackmail of the entire international community and attempts of radical elements to instigate violence," said Churkin.


Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku has submitted a letter to the Security Council, saying that Kosovo ethnic Albanians could under no circumstances return under Belgrade rule. "In 21st century Europe, there is a state with two million people, without a voice in the world," Ceku said. "We demand you to hear us, without destructive postponements and half-measures... show us the future," Ceku urged.


Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by 17 to one. 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.