By Kole Casule
SKOPJE, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Macedonia on Saturday backed a U.N. draft plan to set the breakaway Kosovo province on the path to independence, openly defying its northern neighbour Serbia.
"From what we have seen unofficially, we can say that the document ... will be acceptable to the Macedonian government," Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told reporters after meeting Kosovo Albanian opposition leader Hashim Thaci.
"It is a document that should help stabilise the region."
The comments set the former Yugoslav republic on a diplomatic collision course with Serbia, which rejects independence for its southern province but may be powerless to prevent it. Serbia's caretaker prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, has urged parties trying to form a governing coalition after an inconclusive January election to take a hard line on relations with any state that recognises the independence of Kosovo.
U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari unveiled a plan in Belgrade and Pristina on Friday which, if adopted by the U.N. Security Council, would open the door to a form of internationally-supervised independence for the territory.
Kosovo, 90 percent of whose 2 million people are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the United Nations since NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to halt the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a two-year Serb counter-insurgency war.
Macedonia has a large Albanian minority -- roughly 25 percent out of a population of 2 million -- and is anxious to avoid fresh instability in Kosovo that might spill across their joint border. Gruevski's conservative coalition includes an ethnic Albanian party.
In 2001, an ethnic Albanian guerrilla army seized areas of northern and western Macedonia. The European Union and NATO intervened diplomatically to halt seven months of fighting and a peace accord gave the Albanian minority greater rights.