Kosovo: Ethnic Albanian leaders in Washington after independence blueprint shelved

Washington/Belgrade, 23 July(AKI) – Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders were due to meet in Washington on US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Monday to try and clarify the diplomatic impasse over the breakaway province's independence from Serbia.

The Kosovan leaders and Rice will try and chart a way forward on the province's future status after the United Nations Security Council last Friday withdrew a draft resolution granting Kosovo internationally supervised independence.

After repeated efforts to push through a resolution based on the proposal by UN special negotiator Martti Ahtisaari, western powers, which favour independence, decided to shift the problem to a six-nation Contact group for Kosovo. The group - comprising the US, Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Russia - should hold a further 120 days of negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Meanwhile German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday proposed that the new talks be coordinated by an international “troika” consisting of the US, EU and Russia. He was speaking to journalists in Brussels, where Kosovo is high on the agenda of a summit of EU foreign ministers. Such a troika would be "the best chance" so far to secure a deal on Kosovo, he said.

Russia, as a veto wielding permanent member of the Council, has blocked several draft resolutions, siding with Belgrade in opposing Kosovo's independence and demanding new talks which might lead to a compromise solution.

The shelving of Ahtisaari’s plan in the UN was greeted in Serbia as a “great victory” for Belgrade and Moscow, but some political analysts have warned the Contact group's brief is not entirely clear.

“The withdrawal of a draft resolution that would have paved the way for Kosovo independence is of exceptional importance for Serbia,” said prime minister Vojislav Kostunica. “It represents a victory of law over attempts to snatch a part of Serbia’s territory away,” he added.

Belgrade opposes independence for Kosovo - which has been under UN administration since NATO airstrikes drove Serbian forces from the province in 1999, amid gross human rights violations and a mass exodus of ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo majority ethnic Albanian leaders have said, on the other hand, that they would settle for nothing short of independence. Ahtisaari unveiled a plan proposing EU supervised independence after 13 months of Serb-Albanian talks ended in deadlock.

Washington has been spearheading Kosovo's independence drive and Pristina Albanian language media said that Kosovo president Fatmir Seidiu and prime minister Agim Ceku would demand that Rice clearly sets a timetable for independence.

Meanwhile, ethnic Albanians where planning demonstrations in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, at which they said they planned to “symbolically declare independence." Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by 17 to 1.

Ceku said on Friday that Kosovo's parliament should unilaterally declare independence in November if Ahtisaari’s plan failed, but were cautioned by Washington and the European Union not to take unilateral steps.

After Russia’s last refusal in the UN on Friday, western diplomats said that the search for a solution within the Contact group would facilitate their efforts, because no country has a veto right in the group. “It remains to be seen,” retorted Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin.

Moscow and Belgrade claim that the Contact group may mediate in new talks, but that the final decision on Kosovo's future status still rests with the Security Council.

The watered-down resolution, the third in three months, included a framework that Russia claimed would lead to independence of the Serbian province by stealth.


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