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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kostunica: Russia to block Kosovo plan if unacceptable to Serbia

(DPA, Blic, The Moscow Times - 17/01/07; AP, Reuters, UPI, Itar-Tass, Beta, B92, Serbianna, Serbian Government)

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on Monday (January 15th) that Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured him that his country will not back a settlement to the Kosovo status issue that is rejected by Belgrade.

"The UN Security Council cannot support a solution by the special UN envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, that is not acceptable to Belgrade," Kostunica quoted the Russian leader as telling him in a telephone conversation.

After months of mostly inconclusive talks between Belgrade and Pristina officials last year, Ahtisaari is due to present his proposal for a settlement to the Kosovo status issue shortly after Serbia's parliamentary elections on Sunday. The former Finnish president is widely expected to propose some form of "supervised independence" for the province, allowing it to seek membership in international organisations, a right reserved for sovereign states.

To become an internationally accepted solution, Ahtisaari's plan will have to be approved by the Security Council.

Formally still part of Serbia, Kosovo has been a de facto UN protectorate since the end of the 1998-1999 conflict.

The Kosovo Albanians, who make up 90% of the province's population of about 2 million people, are demanding full independence from Serbia. Describing Kosovo as an integral part of its territory, Serbia insists that all it can agree to is substantial autonomy.

As one of the five permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council, Russia has veto power over any proposed solution.

"Putin pointed out that the solution must be founded on clear and universal principles, which means that it must ensue from the principle of respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of existing states," Kostunica told reporters Monday.

Citing UN officials, Reuters reported on Monday that Ahtisaari would present his proposal to the six-nation Contact Group -- which consists of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States -- in Vienna on January 26th.

He is expected to send his plan to Belgrade and Pristina several days later and reportedly has been asked to initiate new talks between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials after that.

"We would like to see the word independence in there," a senior Western diplomat in Pristina, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. "But there are other ways of doing it: You have a package of arrangements that quite clearly amount to independence, or supervised independence, as the outcome. And if that's the price that has to be paid in order to secure a Security Council outcome, then we're going to have to pay that price."

The Council's final resolution on Kosovo is expected to spell out the end of UNMIK and its replacement by an EU police and administrative mission. According to some sources, it could also open the doors for individual states or international bodies to formally recognise Kosovo as a sovereign country.
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