By Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Neil MacDonald in Belgrade
Published: January 26 2007 |Financial Times
Kosovo is to declare independence in the next few months, with the tacit support of the EU and Nato, in an effort to resolve the eight-year impasse on the status of the province at the heart of the 1999 war between Nato and Belgrade.
Senior western diplomats say the province will make its move and be recognized as independent by European Union and Nato countries once a United Nations resolution about its future – expected to stop short of granting independence – is agreed.
“It’s for a state to determine whether it’s a state and for others to recognize it or not, and that’s what’s going to happen,” said a western diplomat. He added that although the EU would recognize Kosovo as independent, Serbia would not.
Western diplomats believe bilateral recognition of Kosovo’s independence is the only way out of the dispute about the future of the province, but acknowledge they will have to work hard to prevent Serbia’s objections destabilizing the region as a whole.
The EU and US see Kosovo as the biggest remaining source of instability in the Balkans. They intend to avoid either more rioting among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority like that in March 2004 or an attempt by Belgrade to partition the province, over which it claims sovereignty.
Russian opposition means the UN resolution will not declare Kosovo independent. But the EU and Nato believe the resolution is necessary to prevent the province spinning out of control.
Muhamet Hamiti, senior political adviser to Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership, confirmed the province was considering a unilateral declaration of independence but added it would prefer to work within the UN process: “We have been independent since 1999 but we need our sovereignty recognized by the international community. We don’t expect our independence and sovereignty as a gift from anybody.”
On Friday Martti Ahtisaari, UN chief mediator on Kosovo, presented proposals to the contact group of leading powers on Kosovo made up of the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the US and Russia. He plans to take his blueprint to the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on February 2, to start negotiation before a UN Security Council resolution in March.
Moscow wants Mr Ahtisaari to take more time, arguing there is no permanent government in place in Belgrade.