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Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2007, 17:59 GMT
Kosovo set for 'supervised independence'
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

Kosovo Protection Corps members in Pristina
Kosovo Albanians parade in Pristina

The failure to reach agreement on the future of Kosovo is expected to lead to a declaration of independence by Kosovo Albanian leaders.

The timing of that declaration is not clear but the Kosovo Albanians are under pressure from their international supporters to delay it until early next year.

A report from a troika of negotiators - from the US, the EU and Russia - has been sent to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to meet a deadline of 10 December.

"This is a document summarising the negotiating process and making clear that no agreement has been reached," said a British official. "The failure is not due to a lack of effort or energy. It is because there is no common ground."

Senior international diplomats say that Serbia has given assurances to the troika that it will not use force.

Support for Kosovo

The independence of Kosovo, albeit with limitations, will be supported by the United States and by most of the European Union member states, but not by Serbia and Russia, nor by the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

The US and EU have been urging the Kosovo Albanian leadership to co-ordinate their declaration with their international supporters. This is supposed to minimise the risk of destabilisation of the kind precipitated by the sudden recognition of Croatia by some EU states in 1991.

A short period is therefore expected while this co-ordination takes place. The EU summit in Brussels on 14 December could send a signal of support to Kosovo from a majority of EU states, though Greece and maybe one or two others are opposed to the idea of Kosovo's independence.

The EU is in any event likely to agree to send a police team to Kosovo in an extension of its moves into peacekeeping.

Security Council consultations will follow on 19 December, but these will probably confirm Russia's opposition.

End of story?

Those supporting an independent Kosovo hope it will bring an end to the story of the break-up of Yugoslavia. The US, the EU and Nato are determined to suppress potential violence in a way they did not or could not in the 1990s. Whether it closes that book or simply opens another chapter of tension is the critical question.

Certainly it will complicate the already difficult relations between Russia and the West even further. Russia argues that the Security Council, in resolution 1244, simply authorised Kosovo's self-government under the UN within Yugoslavia after the war of 1999, not its independence.

Poster of Churchill in Belgrade
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Russia might argue that Kosovo is a precedent for enclaves sympathetic to Russia in other states, especially Georgia. The EU and US counter that Kosovo, the subject of oppression, a war and a UN resolution is unique.

However the troika process has shown that Serbia's offer of autonomy to Kosovo is not acceptable to the Kosovo Albanians and that the Kosovo Albanians' demand for independence is not acceptable to Serbia.

The Ahtisaari plan

Therefore, the supporters of independence argue, the plan drawn up for the UN by the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari should now be implemented, with or without a new Security Council resolution. Russia blocked a resolution in the summer and is likely to do so again.

The plan calls for "supervised independence" for Kosovo. Kosovo would not be allowed to join any other state (i.e. Albania) and there are protections for the Serb minority and heritage. Nato's 16,000 troops will remain and the new EU police force will take over from UN personnel.

The plan has been accepted by Kosovo's Albanian leadership.

The European and American hope is that, despite the tensions and arguments and with some problems on the ground along the way, the process will in due course play out.

The carrot for the Serbs is that one day they will join the European Union and for this to happen, there will have to be peace.

But the loss of Kosovo, scene of a heroic Serb defeat against the Ottomans in 1389 that has become a symbol of its nationhood, will be a bitter pill for Serbia to swallow.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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