15 February 2007

Kosovo to draft statute of independent state

Reuters, 12/14/2006 4:50:43


Pristina, Serbia . Kosovo said yesterday it would start writing a state constitution, despite major international powers delaying a decision on the Albanian majority province's bid for independence from Serbia.


Kosovo Albanian leaders said they had created a working group that would draft a constitution in preparation for independence day. Western powers had promised a decision on the future of the UN-run province by the end of this year, but postponed it to accommodate a Serbian general election in January.


The West is sympathetic to the Albanians' demand for their own state, more than seven years after Nato bombed the region to expel Serb forces accused of civilian killings and ethnic cleansing in a counter-insurgency war between 1998 and 1999. But UN veto holder Russia says the settlement should also satisfy Serbia, complicating efforts to reach a deal within the UN Security Council.


The Kosovo Albanian negotiating team agreed yesterday to push ahead with preparations regardless. Kosovo's 2 million Albanians are growing increasingly impatient, and UN officials fear unrest if a decision does not come soon.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was to tell the Security Council yesterday that Serbs and Albanians remain "diametrically opposed" in their visions of Kosovo's future. He will warn that "fringe groups and extremists" stand ready to capitalise on growing frustration on both sides.


A spokesman for the negotiating team said the draft constitution would be "harmonised with the basic principles" of the UN blueprint being drafted by envoy Martti Ahtisaari.


Ahtisaari opened direct talks between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians in February. With no sign of compromise, his report is expected to reject the Serb offer of autonomy and open the door to a form of independence.