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U.N. Kosovo proposal tries to please all sides

Plan would give province self-rule but not independence.

February 03, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. envoy unveiled a blueprint for Kosovo's future Friday that gives the province de facto independence without formal sovereignty, a compromise between the Serbian government's demand for control and the majority Albanians' wish for nationhood.

The road map for Kosovo's future does not mention independence from Serbia but provides the outlines of internationally supervised self-rule.

The ethnically divided province, where nine out of 10 people are ethnic Albanian, will have its own flag, anthem, army, constitution and membership in international organizations.

The 58-page plan provides for a NATO-led peacekeeping force to help ensure "a safe and secure environment ... as long as necessary," plus an appointed international representative who would supervise the transition and have veto power over the Kosovo government.

It would allow Kosovo to declare independence with Security Council approval, but Russia -- a veto-holding member -- opposes statehood.

Though nominally a province of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since U.S.-led NATO forces drove out the Serbian military in 1999 to protect Albanian residents from "ethnic cleansing" at the hands of the Belgrade government.

The architect of the U.N. plan, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, presented the proposal Friday to Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders, after months of negotiations, saying it was as close as the two sides could get.

The positions of the opposing parties are "extremely fixed," Ahtisaari said. He invited both sides to meet again Feb. 13 in Vienna for final negotiations on a settlement that would be acceptable to all, but he hinted that the talks had reached their limit.

"I think that might require so much time that I don't think I have years in my life to achieve" it, he said.

Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, and its nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, rejected the plan Friday and vowed that Kosovo would never be independent.

"I told Mr. Ahtisaari that Serbia and I, as its president, will never accept Kosovo's independence," Tadic said in a statement after meeting with the U.N. envoy in Belgrade.

Kostunica refused to meet Ahtisaari, whom he accused of being biased against Serbia, and declared the plan "illegitimate."

The prime minister threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes Kosovo as an independent state.

In Kosovo's capital, Pristina, President Fatmir Sejdiu said the plan set Kosovo on the path to independence and pledged to protect the rights of the minority Serbs if it did become a nation.

"Kosovo will be sovereign like all other countries," he said after meeting with Ahtisaari.

The Security Council will have the final say on Kosovo's status, but Russia has said it will not support the plan if Serbia, a traditional ally, opposes it. China also has sided with Serbia, out of fear that Kosovo's secession could encourage its own minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet.

That foreshadows a stalemate on the council, with the U.S. and Europe supporting independence for the province.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack praised the plan as "fair and balanced," and called on both sides to work toward an agreement.

The European Union said that resolving the status of Kosovo would be crucial to securing the region's stability and urged Pristina and Belgrade to be serious about reaching a settlement. "Both sides must demonstrate responsibility, flexibility and a recognition of the need for realistic compromise-based solutions," said a statement from the EU presidency, held by Germany.

The Security Council will meet with Ahtisaari this month after the Vienna meeting but will not formally take up the issue until March, said Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, the council's president for February.

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