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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 00:10 GMT
UN plans tackle Kosovo limbo
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

An ethnic-Albanian man in Kosovo
Ethnic Albanians could be about to take control of their own destiny

Kosovo is one of the last pieces of the European jigsaw yet to be slotted into place as the continent settles down after the end of communism.

It was the cause of war between Nato and Serbia in 1999, as Nato demanded an end to the repression of the ethnic-Albanian Kosovan majority and forced a withdrawal of Serbian troops.

It has been in limbo ever since. It is neither effectively still part of Serbia, as the Serbs want, nor independent, as the Kosovans demand.

The proposals

The plan for Kosovo drawn up by the UN's special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, an experienced Finnish diplomat and politician, would give Kosovo independence - but with limits, and under international supervision.

It would open the way for Kosovo to join the UN and have its own flag and national anthem - but it would prevent Kosovo from amalgamating with Albania, or having its Serb areas split off and be part of Serbia.

Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo
Serbs' rights will be protected under the new plan
The Serb minority would have protection - with guaranteed places in local government and parliament, proportionate representation in the police and civil service, and a special status for the Serbian Orthodox Church.

A key element is that there would be an international representative, supported by Nato troops and an EU-led police mission, to supervise the settlement and make sure that everyone stuck to it. This figure could intervene to annul appointments or even use Nato troops to enforce his or her rulings.

"The plan can be summed up as 'independence, subject to international supervision'," said a Western diplomat familiar with the proposals.

"It is Ahtisaari's assessment of a reasonable compromise. Serbia would have to accept the loss of Kosovo. Kosovo would have to accept an international presence, limits on its sovereignty and a generous package for the Serb and other minorities," the diplomat said.

Reason and nationalism

The problem with "reasonable compromises" is that they do not readily appeal to people with nationalist aspirations.

It has taken nearly 40 years (since the start of the modern troubles in 1968 - though many would argue years or centuries longer than that) for Northern Ireland to reach the stage where a compromise is at the point of decision.

BBC map
Kosovo is subject to similar passions.

For the ethnically Albanian Kosovans, it is a homeland that should become a country.

For the Serbs, it is part of their heritage - an ancient field of battle where Serbian Christian warriors fought the Muslim Ottoman army in 1389.

For modern European leaders, it is a chance to show that compromise can work and that there is a place in Europe for both Christian and Muslim.

Not the end

Although the plan is part of what is called the "Kosovo Final Status Process", it cannot be the end of the story.

The presence of an international representative cannot be a long-term element in the life of a fully independent state.

It is unlikely that with such an arrangement Kosovo could enter the EU, as it would not be a full democracy.

Further adjustments would have to be made.

It might be some time before this piece of the jigsaw fits into its place, even if this plan is followed.

And the final places of Serbia and Bosnia in the European jigsaw are also yet to be settled.

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