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Kosovo needs independence, mediator says

Continued uncertainty about its status may destabilize the region, U.N. envoy reports.

March 27, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. mediator for Kosovo said Monday that independence was the "only viable option" for the ethnic Albanian province in Serbia, a recommendation that may set up a Security Council deadlock between Serbia's ally Russia and the West.

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who tried for a year to broker an agreement between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, reported to the council that talks had proved fruitless and that continued uncertainty about Kosovo's status would be destabilizing for the province and the region. For eight years since its devastating civil war, the province has been governed by the United Nations, and neither full Serbian control nor autonomy within Serbia would be tenable, Ahtisaari's report says.

Kosovo's limbo status has left it unable to develop its economy, gain access to international finance or attract foreign investment, all of which has led to further political instability.

"Upon careful consideration of Kosovo's recent history, the realities of Kosovo today, and taking into account the negotiations with the parties, I have come to the conclusion that the only viable option for Kosovo is independence, to be supervised for an initial period by the international community," Ahtisaari wrote.

In the weeks before presenting the report, Ahtisaari had carefully avoided the word "independence," saying he would leave it to the Security Council to decide the next steps. But in his report, the former president of Finland strongly urged the council to endorse his recommendation for independence.

In a proposal for Kosovo's "status settlement," included with the report, he outlined a transition period with a European Union representative and the support of NATO troops and European police to ensure stability while Kosovo's leaders developed political and legal institutions. They would write their own constitution and hold democratic elections within nine months of completion of the terms of the settlement, the proposal says.

Provisions of the settlement address the fragile coexistence of ethnic Albanians, Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo, calling for a "multiethnic society" and guarantees for minority representation in the community and Kosovo Assembly. The official languages would be Albanian and Serbian; Turkish, Bosnian and Roma would also be recognized. The Kosovo Serb community would have a "high degree of control over its own affairs," the proposal says.

Ahtisaari tried to allay Russian and Chinese concerns that granting Kosovo independence would encourage separatist movements in multiethnic countries.

"Kosovo is a unique case that demands a unique solution," the report says. "It does not create a precedent for other unresolved conflicts."

The Security Council is to begin discussing the report April 3, diplomats said. The debate could be a long one. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov has criticized Ahtisaari for giving up on negotiations and called for him to be replaced by someone more optimistic about the prospect of compromise.

Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, said independence for Kosovo in any form was "unacceptable." Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu welcomed the proposal as "a historic day for Kosovo" and said independence would help build "peace, stability and prosperity" in the province, according to an Associated Press report from its capital, Pristina.

The U.S. strongly backs independence for Kosovo, said R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of State for political affairs.

"Finally, after eight years, the people of Kosovo are going to know where their future lies and what their status shall be, and the United States does support the proposal, he said in Brussels.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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