03 June 2007

US envoy says Kosovo plan 'fully open' to change

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE (SWITZERLAND), 05 fĂ©vrier 2007 12:27


PRISTINA, Serbia, Feb 5, 2007 (AFP)


== ATTENTION -quotes, background, INCORPORATES -Ceku ///


The top US envoy to Kosovo said Monday that a United Nations plan for the disputed Serbian province could be changed without disappointing independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.


Frank Wisner made the comments as Western diplomats began a series of meetings with key parties about Kosovo in a bid to win support for the plan, which was unveiled Friday by its architect Martti Ahtisaari.


The proposal -- which avoids the word independence but offers Kosovo self-governance, a constitution, anthem and flag -- was welcomed by the leaders of the province's ethnic Albanian majority but rejected by Belgrade.


Speaking to journalists in the Kosovo capital Pristina, Wisner said Washington saw the plan as "an excellent proposal" that deserved support because it marked a new beginning for the troubled province.


"The proposal outlines where Kosovo will be in the future," said the US diplomat.


"It is fully open to be changed in discussions, (but) let Mr. Ahtisaaari finish his work. I doubt it will be terribly disappointing for you," he said after meeting Kosovo Albanian leaders.


Though formally still part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by a UN mission since 1999, following a NATO bombing campaign forced a withdrawal of Serb troops.


Wisner will follow up his Pristina visit with more shuttle diplomacy on Tuesday by travelling to Belgrade.


On Friday, Serbian leaders were united in their strong opposition to the Ahtisaari plan, which they said violated the territorial integrity of the country.


Wisner's visit came as the European Union sent a high-level delegation to Moscow on Monday to discuss Russia's stance on Kosovo. Moscow has voiced support for Belgrade, its traditional Slav ally.


"We and our friends in Moscow began this issue together. It's our intention to continue and bring this issue to conclusion in a cooperative manner," said Wisner, adding he would also visit the Russian capital.


Ahead of his arrival in Pristina, the US diplomatic mission in Kosovo warned any unrest could ruin the entire status process.


"Any sign of violence ... absolutely damages Kosovo's prospects. This is something that citizens should bear in mind," the top US official based in the province, Tina Kaidanow, said at the weekend.


Since its 1998-1999 war, Kosovo has experienced sporadic violence, the worst of which occurred in several days of anti-Serb riots in March 2004, when 19 people died and dozens of Orthodox churches were damaged or destroyed.


New security concerns emerged after leaders of a Serb stronghold in northern Kosovo said they would stage a protest on Friday, a day before an already announced demonstration by ethnic Albanians.


"The protest meeting is to express discontent and reject Ahtisaari's proposal," said the organisers, the Serb National Council, adding it would be the first of many such rallies across Kosovo.


But Kosovo's ethnic Albanian prime minister, Agim Ceku, appealed to Serbs to accept the UN plan in an interview published Monday in a Serbian national daily.


The Kosovo status process was "an event which resolves many dilemmas and uncertainties for Serbs, and which draws a close to bad relations" with Albanians, Ceku told the Glas Javnosti newspaper.


Meanwhile, Serbian President Boris Tadic was set to hold a crisis meeting on Monday of all political parties about Ahtisaari's plan.