A vision for Kosovo's future

After a year of negotiations between Serbia and the provisional self- government of Kosovo, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari on Friday issued his recommendations for the Serbian province's status.

His proposals suggested giving Kosovo many of the trappings of statehood, but stopped far short of giving the province the full independence that its ethnic Albanian majority has wanted for a decade.

The proposals, delivered at the UN building in Pristina from which Kosovo has been run since a NATO bombing campaign drove Serb forces out in 1999, include giving Kosovo its own constitution, flag, and anthem, and the opportunity for the province to seek membership in international organizations. They also freeze Kosovo's current borders by blocking both the Kosovar Albanians from joining next-door Albania proper, and the Kosovo Serbs in the north from breaking away to join Serbia. The Serb minority – constituting about 5 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population – will receive a certain number of positions in the province's government, civil service, and police. And the proposals foresee an international civilian overseer with powers to intervene in the province's government, as well as a continued NATO and European Union military and police presence.

But Friday's proposals, while they were welcomed by the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team, the US, and the European Union, are far from final. Ahtisaari is calling for further talks starting Feb. 13 between Serbia – which wants to retain the province – and the ethnic Albanians, who want independence. Then the UN Security Council will have to pass a new resolution based on the final proposals. Such a resolution would replace the 1999 resolution that created Kosovo's current limbo – technically part of Serbia, but run by the UN and secured by 16,000 NATO peacekeepers.

"I can't foresee how long the matter will take in the Security Council," said Mr. Ahtisaari Friday, adding that he didn't expect a vote before late March. "I hope the council can agree on the resolution as soon as possible.... I don't want to have any unnecessary or artificial delays in this."

The long-awaited proposals came after 15 rounds of direct talks and 26 visits to the Serbian capital Belgrade and the Kosovo provincial capital Pristina. The talks came to an impasse in early autumn and the proposals were delayed until Serbia passed its new constitution in October and held elections Jan. 21.

Serbia has yet to form a government. Serbia's caretaker prime minister Vojislav Kostunica refused to meet with Ahtisaari in Belgrade on Friday. President Boris Tadic rejected the plan, saying he would never accept Kosovo's independence.

Serbia is backed by its ally Russia, which wields a veto in the Security Council and says it will use it if Serbia is not happy with the final proposals. "A variant to impose what is unacceptable to any of the parties does not suit us," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after a weekend visit to Washington.

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