20 April 2007

Kosovo: UN envoy suggests "supervised independence"



Vienna, 26 Jan. (AKI) - The chief United Nations negotiator for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, presented behind closed doors his plan for the future status of Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province on Friday to the six-nation Contact group in Vienna. Although no officials statement has been made about the content of Ahtisaari's proposals, unnamed Western diplomats were quoted as saying he has recommended "supervised independence" for Kosovo, reportedly drawing unified support from Western countries and scepticism from Russia.


NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the alliance's foreign ministers, gathered on Friday for a summit in Brussels, also gave unanimous backing to Ahistaari's recommendations for Kosovo. The province has been under UN administration and NATO-led international protection since 1999 following ethnic fighting and human rights abuses.


Ahtisaari presented his plan to UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on Thursday and will travel to Belgrade and Pristina on 2 February to hand it over to the Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders for consideration. It includes the creation of a Kosovan paramilitary force, reports said, quoting unnamed sources in Brussels.


Supervised independence might sooth majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, who outnumber Kosovo's tiny Serb minority by 17 to 1. But is is likely to be unnacceptable to Serbs remaining in the province and to Belgrade, which opposes Kosovo independence, arguing it would destabilise the entire region.


The Contact Group, made up of United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, has been tasked by the UN with presenting to the UN Security Council by end-March a final status proposal for Kosovo, based on Ahtisaari's recommendations. The top UN body should then make the final ruling and vote a new resolution on Kosovo.


Diplomats said that Russia, which has opposed Kosovo independence, remained sceptical and asked for another postponement of the final decision on the province's future status. But it found itself isolated, with the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy swinging behind Ahtisaari's plans.


Russia - a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council - has threatened to block a resolution on independence should the Council move to impose this without Serbia's consent. But there has been recent speculation that western powers might avoid a vote in the Security Council by leaving it to each individual country to recognise Kosovo unilaterally.


Analysts in Belgrade said that Ahtisaari's proposal could complicate consultations in the formation of a new Serbian government after last Sunday's general election - one of the reasons why Russia asking for postponement. Meanwhile, according to media reports, Kosovo's international and local police will be on alert for possible unrest when Ahtisaari's plan is released next week.


Kosovo ethnic Albanian prime minister Agim Ceku said that Kosovo police with the help of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in the province (KFOR) was capable of keeping the situation under control. "We are following the situation and the Kosovo police and KFOR will guarantee security now and after the status decision," Ceku said.


Ceku said he didn't expect that either side would be completely satisfied with Ahtisaari's proposal, but added that the plan offered "a substance of a state within the existing Kosovo borders."


While the guessing game on the substance of Ahtisaari's proposal continued, a Kosovo Serb leader, Oliver Ivanovic, said he had information that the remaining 100,000 Serbs in Kosovo would have seven municipalities, with local self-rule, and the right to special ties to Belgrade.


"We will have special rights in the sphere of security, health, education and culture," he pointed out. "The local organs will have the right to name police chiefs, judges and prosecutors," said Ivanovic.


But although Ahtisaari doesn't explicitly mention the word "independence" in his plan, according to unnamed diplomats, the proposal is likely to be rejected by Belgrade, which insists on preservation of Serbia's existing state borders, analysts said.