24 March 2007

United Nations' Kosovo blueprint in "final stages"

Reuters, Thu Jan 4, 2007 11:01 AM ET By Matt Robinson


BELGRADE (Reuters) - A U.N. blueprint on the final status of Serbia's U.N.-run province of Kosovo, which diplomats say will open the door to independence, will be ready on January 21, a United Nations spokesman said on Thursday.


"It's in the final stages," said Remi Dourlot, spokesman for U.N. Kosovo envoy Martti Ahtisaari. "It has still to be finalized but it will be ready for the 21st and to be presented any time after then."


Serbia holds a general election on January 21, a snap vote that forced Ahtisaari to postpone an original deadline of end-2006 for his proposal on the fate of the majority ethnic Albanian province.


A Western diplomat told the Austrian daily Die Presse on Thursday that it was increasingly likely Ahtisaari's blueprint would recommend "supervised independence".


Diplomats have said for months that the United States and its major European allies favor independence, supervised by the European Union and a NATO force of currently 17,000 soldiers.


But Russian backing for Serbia, which says autonomy is the most it can offer a region which was once the heart of the medieval Serb kingdom, is complicating efforts to decide the issue at the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow holds a veto.


Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority has ruled out a return to Serb rule. Ten thousand died and almost a million were temporarily expelled in a 1998-99 conflict in which NATO bombed Serbia and occupied the province. Kosovo has been a ward of the United Nations since.


A U.N. official told Reuters it was "quite likely" Ahtisaari would brief the six-member Contact Group steering Balkan diplomacy -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- on January 26, after which he would personally present the document to Serbia and Kosovo.


Kosovo media reports say the document, to appease Russia, will fall short of recommending independence but clear the decks for individual states to recognize Kosovo. The U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said Ahtisaari might make this clear in a separate report to new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.


Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on Wednesday called on Ban to protect Serbia's territorial integrity and rule out the creation of "another Albanian state".


Diplomats are eyeing March or April for a new U.N. Security Council resolution which would wind up the current U.N. mission in Kosovo and mandate a new international envoy and a European Union-led police and justice mission.


NATO peacekeepers and U.N. police are braced for unrest as a decision nears, and a possible exodus by some of Kosovo's 100,000 remaining Serbs if the decision goes against them.