Saturday, January 27, 2007

U.N. Offers Plan for Kosovo’s Independence

Published: January 27, 2007| New York Times.

PARIS, Jan. 26 — The United Nations mediator Martti Ahtisaari presented his proposals for the final status of Kosovo on Friday, most likely setting the tiny war-torn territory on its way toward independence.

Although that goal is still months away and subject to a vote at the United Nations, the presentation of a plan is an important and long-delayed step in resolving the still potentially explosive tensions that led to war in Europe eight years ago.

The recommendations would leave the former Yugoslav province free to declare independence from Serbia, according to Western diplomats who have seen the plan. But they say it would also impose international supervision, much like what exists in Bosnia, to provide protection for Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs.

As a result, the proposals fall short of the full independence so hoped for by the territory’s majority population of ethnic Albanians, according to Western diplomats.

Even with the promise of international involvement, the diplomats say, Russia, a Serbian ally whose support is a crucial element, remains cool to the plan.

The proposals foresee a strong international presence for the indefinite future, and include “a lot of measures to guarantee and promote the rights of the minority communities,” Remi Dourlot, Mr. Ahtisaari’s spokesman, said in Vienna, where the plan was presented.

NATO troops, which have kept peace in the country since fighting ended in 1999, will stay put for the time being. And while the United Nations mission governing the territory will pack up and leave, it will be replaced by another international organization that will have executive powers to annul any legislation that breaches Kosovo’s obligations under United Nations agreements, diplomats said.

If the United Nations Security Council approves the plan, Kosovo is expected to quickly declare its independence and could expect swift recognition from its American and European supporters, even if Serbia rejected such a move.

But that step, diplomats caution, is probably months away.

“I foresee this process taking some time, and we might be in a wholly different situation,” said one senior Western diplomat in Vienna who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to comment on the proposal until it is made public. “No one can predict the Security Council dynamic.”

Mr. Ahtisaari handed his recommendations to representatives of the so-called Contact Group — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia — during a meeting at a secret location in Vienna. It will be presented next Friday to the Serbian government in Belgrade and the Kosovo government in Pristina.

Serbia and Kosovo will have the opportunity to ask questions and suggest changes to the proposals. When Mr. Ahtisaari feels he has exhausted those negotiations, he is expected to present a plan to the Security Council for approval. Kosovo and Serbia remain far apart in their positions, and experts say it is unlikely that Mr. Ahtisaari can close the gap.

Already, Russia, which supports Serbia’s efforts to keep Kosovo as a province, is pushing for the Security Council vote to be delayed until Belgrade has formed a government after recent elections, diplomats in Vienna say.

Serbia’s nationalist Radical Party came in first with 28 percent of the vote this month, but the democratic parties that came in second and third have the best chance to form a coalition.

But four Western diplomats interviewed said they doubted that Serbia could prevail upon Russia to veto a resolution once the Security Council is presented with one.

Mr. Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, has not said when he expected to send the proposals to the Security Council, but diplomats involved in the negotiations say they are pressing for it to happen this spring.

According to one diplomat familiar with the plan, it would give Kosovo the right to enter into some international agreements and join world organizations as a sovereign state.

NATO would train a civil defense force that could eventually become a Kosovo Army, though it is not clear what would become of the Kosovo Protection Corps, which includes former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and has been accused of aiding ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia and other misconduct.

In other ways, Kosovo would remain subject to international community oversight. The European Union is already setting up a police force of more than 1,000 officers to monitor the territory’s police, judges, prosecutors and even prison guards.

The most politically delicate part of the plan concerns treatment of the estimated 114,000 Serbs in Kosovo, most of whom adamantly oppose independence from Serbia.

To reassure the minority that their rights will not be overrun, some Serbian areas would reportedly be given autonomy, and be free to receive some Serbian government help in building hospitals and schools. Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan also reportedly provides for the creation of several new municipalities where the concentration of Serbs is high.

Serbian legislators in the Kosovo Parliament, meanwhile, would be able to stop at least some legislation if they believe it discriminates against the Serbian minority, diplomats said. Serbian religious institutions would also be guaranteed special protection.

Kosovo, nearly the size of Connecticut, has about two million people, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanian Muslims, a legacy of Ottoman rule.

It was an autonomous region within the Yugoslav federation until 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic asserted Belgrade’s authority over the territory. That led to a rebellion by ethnic Albanians that was brutally suppressed until NATO intervened with a bombing campaign against Mr. Milosevic’s troops in March 1999.

The war ended that June 1 when Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo and NATO peacekeepers moved in. Kosovo became a United Nations protectorate with the promise that its final status would be decided over time. NATO has recently warned that Kosovo Albanian patience in waiting for that solution is running thin. Fair Use

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