Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UN decides to push back Kosovo plan

CHANGE OF TACK An early poll called by the Serbian president forced the UN to postpone a decision on the status of the breakaway province

AFP , BELGRADE

Serbian President Boris Tadic on Friday called legislative elections for January 21, forcing the UN to delay a decision on the future status of disputed Kosovo Province.

The early poll was confirmed after the Serbian parliament adopted a new constitution that defines the ethnic-Albanian majority province of Kosovo as an "integral" part of the country.

Following the announcement, which came a day after major parties agreed on the election date, the UN envoy on Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, said he would only reveal his plans for its future status after the Serbian vote.

"I have decided to present my proposal for the settlement of Kosovo status to the parties without delay after the parliamentary elections in Serbia," Ahtisaari said in a statement released in Vienna.

His announcement followed talks in the Austrian capital with the six-nation Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the US -- that oversees Balkan trouble spots such as Kosovo.

The international community had previously hinted that Serbian elections could force them to delay the end-of-year deadline to resolve Kosovo's status.

Kosovo, which is still formally a southern province of Serbia, has been under UN and NATO control since the end of its 1998 to 1999 war.

Ahtisaari is widely expected to propose that the UN grants a form of independence to the ethnic Albanians who comprise around 90 percent of Kosovo's estimated two million population.

In Pristina, Kosovo Albanian leaders expressed "deep regret" at Ahtisaari's decision.

Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said Kosovo's five-member negotiating team was "particularly disturbed" that the delay was related to the Serbian elections.

"We are deeply convinced that the process [of negotiations] will end with an independent and sovereign state of Kosovo, in accordance with the political will of the Kosovo people," said Sejdiu, who also leads Pristina's team at the talks.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Ahtisaari was overstepping his mandate by taking the Serbian vote into consideration.

"The international community know that Serbia's final stance, which no one can change, is that Kosovo has always been and will forever remain an inalienable part of Serbia," Kostunica told the Beta news agency.

Tadic, however, welcomed Ahtisaari's announcement, saying the delay would allow "possible solutions" to be discussed that might "satisfy all sides."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a weekend report that the negotiations on kosovo, which began in February this year, could drag into next year.

Ahtisaari had previously said he may have to impose a settlement over Kosovo due to deadlocked negotiations between Serbia and the province's ethnic Albanian leaders.

The loss of Kosovo could boost the ultranationalist forces in Serbia, notably the Serbian Radical party, currently in opposition but still the strongest single political force in Serbia with a third of the seats in its 250-seat parliament.

But Tadic said he was sure the democratic bloc that overthrew former president Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 would defeat nationalist and socialist parties.

"I certainly will not allow the political forces that pull Serbia into the past to win these elections," he told reporters after signing a presidential decree setting the election date.

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