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U.N. plan for ethnic Albanian self-rule draws Serbian ire

Published February 4, 2007


PRISTINA, Serbia - For Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, a new U.N. proposal opens the door to their long-awaited dream of independence, while Serbia's leaders are warning of secession.

The fault lines run far beyond the Balkans. Russia and the United States appear headed for a confrontation over the plan in the U.N. Security Council.

Russia, a traditional Serb ally, warned on Saturday of disagreements with the United States, which has long backed ethnic Albanian demands for independence.

"So far we don't have a common view how to resolve this problem," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after arriving in Moscow from talks in Washington. "Kosovo is a topic on which, in contrast to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, the divergence in our positions has a character of principle."

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented his proposal on Friday to officials in Belgrade and to ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo. The plan, which must be approved by the Security Council, spelled out conditions for internationally supervised self-rule for the province without explicitly mentioning independence.

Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when NATO airstrikes stopped Serbia's crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels. Nearly 10,000 people, most of them ethnic Albanians, were killed during the war, and nearly 1-million were forced to flee their homes.

About 200,000 Serbs fled the province after the war following revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians. Serbs consider Kosovo their nation's ancient heartland.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said Saturday that Ahtisaari's document described Kosovo as an independent state and that he strongly believed Ahtisaari would recommend independence in his final report to the U.N.

"Kosovo is definitely running the last mile toward independence," Ceku said.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and other Serb leaders said they would call a special session of Parliament, possibly next week, to discuss what steps to take in response to the U.N. plan.

The ultranationalist Serb Radical Party, which won the most votes in January parliamentary elections, demanded that Parliament adopt a resolution binding all officials to fully oppose independence for Kosovo.

"Even if Kosovo becomes independent, the Radicals will see that it lasts as short as possible," said Tomislav Nikolic, a senior Radicals leader.

Ahtisaari described his proposal as a draft compromise subject to change, and invited the rival sides to meet again on Feb. 13 for further negotiations. He said he hoped to be able to present a package to the Security Council by the end of March.

Ceku said he expected the Security Council to adopt a new resolution in April that will pave the way to the province's eventual independence.

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, insisted that Moscow has no intention of using its veto power on the Security Council to block the province's de-facto independence.

However, he criticized Ahtisaari's proposals as failing to live up to certain standards, including that of a multiethnic society that would allow for the return of Serb refugees to the province. He noted the proposals were supposed to serve as an offer for both sides.

"Any attempt to present these proposals to the U.N. Security Council would be futile and counterproductive," Lavrov said.

[Last modified February 4, 2007, 00:34:28]

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