Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

UN proposes first step leading to Kosovo statehood

AP , BELGRADE

A UN envoy yesterday unveiled a plan for the bitterly contested province of Kosovo, its first tentative step toward eventual statehood.

The proposal handed to Serbian President Boris Tadic by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari in a 45-minute meeting details terms for what would amount to internationally supervised statehood, but does not mention the word "independence," according to highlights obtained by the Associated Press.

Parts of the plan shown to the AP call for a multiethnic Kosovo "governing itself democratically and with full respect for the rule of law." They also recommend that the province adopt its own constitution and be empowered "to negotiate and conclude international agreements, including the right to seek membership in international organizations."

The plan drafted by Ahtisaari laid out terms for "a future Kosovo that is viable, sustainable and stable."

The blueprint, which still needs approval from the UN Security Council, is likely to be flatly rejected by Serbian officials, who staunchly oppose the independence of Kosovo, the nation's historic heartland.

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO airstrikes stopped Serbia's crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels. Ethnic Albanians, who account for 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, have rejected Serbia's offer of broad autonomy within Serbian borders and demand outright independence.

Diplomats warned that the plan would disappoint people on both sides of the ethnic divide.

"The Serbs will have to accept the loss of Kosovo," a Western official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the plan with reporters.

And Kosovo's Albanian majority "will have to accept continued international presence, significant limitations on their sovereignty and a very generous package of rights for the Kosovo Serbs."

The EU urged both Serbian and ethnic Albanian officials yesterday to discuss the plan "in a serious manner and without reservations."

"Both sides must demonstrate responsibility, flexibility and a recognition of the need for realistic compromised-based solutions," the EU said in a statement.

Trappings of independence would include a flag and anthem along with the right to seek membership in international organizations -- though a seat at the UN would by no means be assured.

If the proposal eventually wins Security Council approval, that would set the stage for the US and other countries to formally recognize Kosovo's independence. But there were concerns that the plan could trigger a showdown between the US -- long an advocate of an independent Kosovo -- and Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia.

In a snub to Ahtisaari, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica refused to meet with the former Finnish president, who met with Tadic instead.

Kostunica, a nationalist, is a fierce critic of Ahtisaari, whom he has accused of working in the interest of Kosovo's Albanians and of ignoring Serbia's claims to Kosovo as the heart of its ancient homeland.

Kostunica has threatened to cut off ties with any nation that recognizes Kosovo as an independent state. That drew a stern rebuke on Thursday from the US embassy in Belgrade, which issued a statement saying it was "very disappointed by this approach."

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