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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 15:18 GMT
UN presents key plan for Kosovo
Ethnic Albanian man in Pristina
Kosovo has remained ethnically divided since the 1999 war
The United Nations special envoy to Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, has briefed diplomats on his long-awaited plan for the Serbian province's future.

He presented the plan behind closed doors in Vienna to the six-nation Contact Group.

However one nation, Russia, a strong ally of Serbia, has already indicated it wants longer to study the plan.

The report is the first step towards a final status solution for Kosovo, administered by the UN since 1999.

The plan will be shown to the Kosovo Albanians and Serbs next week.

It is not yet clear whether it includes the word that the overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo want to hear: independence.

In addition to Russia, the Vienna meeting was attended by diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the US.

International role

Mr Ahtisaari said this week he wanted a continued international presence, both military and civilian, to protect the minority Serbs in a multi-ethnic society.

Nato's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Friday reconfirmed that its Kosovo force, K-For, would remain to "play its part through and beyond the status process".

I would like to say loud and clear that the Serb minority will be protected
Philippe Douste-Blazy
French Foreign Minister

Speaking after a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels, he said members "shared commitment to the need for a resolution as quickly as possible".

Mr Ahtisaari is recommending that a senior European Union official doubling as an international representative should oversee implementation of the plan.

He began considering his own recommendations when it became clear that direct negotiations between Serb and Kosovo Albanian representatives would not yield a final deal.

The BBC's South-East Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos, says the Finn has sought to allay the fears of Serbs, who have been increasingly concerned that his blueprint will favour the Albanian side.

BBC map

Russia appeared to echo those fears when one Moscow diplomat told Associated Press news agency it did not want "hasty moves" and would prefer to wait until a new government was formed in Serbia following recent elections.

Russia has traditionally stood up for the Serbian cause and has promised to oppose any solution unacceptable to the government in Belgrade.

The other Contact Group members favour setting a time limit and Kosovan Prime Minister Agim Ceku insisted there were "no more reasons to delay the status process".

He added: "I am confident that Kosovo will be independent."

Ethnic Albanians remain implacably opposed to anything else.

Diplomats say that Serbia itself, which has pledged never to yield Kosovo, is simply going to have to live with the province's departure.

But the plan may give Kosovo the trappings of statehood without physically separating it from Serbia.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said after the plan was presented that the whole Contact Group agreed with its main principles.

"I would like to say loud and clear that the Serb minority will be protected," he said.

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