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Kosovo Talks End in Deadlock

VIENNA -- A year of contentious talks on the future status of Kosovo has ended in a bitter deadlock over a United Nations plan that would set the disputed Serbian province on the road to independence.

Serbia's nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, warned of "the most dangerous precedent in the history of the UN" if the UN Security Council -- which will have the final say -- approves the plan.

Kostunica said the blueprint, which would grant Kosovo supervised statehood and elements of independence, including its own army, flag, anthem and constitution, could encourage other independence-minded regions around the world to break away. Serbian President Boris Tadic said he found the idea of parting with the province "unbearable."

But Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu made it clear that his ethnic Albanian majority sees eventual independence as the only acceptable outcome.

"Independence is the alpha and omega -- the beginning and end of our position," Sejdiu said Saturday, adding that ethnic Albanians "look forward to one day joining the family of free nations."

UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari conceded that last-ditch efforts to get the rival sides to agree on his proposal fell apart after they failed to reach any common ground.

"No amount of additional negotiations will change that," an exasperated Ahtisaari told reporters, adding: "It is my firm conclusion that the potential of negotiations is exhausted."

The former Finnish president said he would now deliver the package to the Security Council by the end of the month. It could also provoke a diplomatic showdown there: Although the United States and the European Union support the plan, it has drawn criticism from Russia, an ally of Serbia that wields veto power on the Security Council.

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO air strikes on Belgrade ended a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in the southern province. Although ultranationalists in Serbia have threatened to stage an uprising if Kosovo is granted independence, Tadic made clear that his government, "has refrained so far, and will refrain in the future, from the use of force."

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku played down disappointment among some ethnic Albanians that the plan would not provide full and immediate statehood.

"This proposal for sure will give Kosovo independence," he said, urging a speedy Security Council resolution abolishing Serbia's sovereignty over the province.

Sejdiu, however, acknowledged that Kosovo's leaders made "very painful compromises" by agreeing to give the dwindling Serbian minority broad rights in running their daily affairs.


(The Moscow Times 12.iii.07)

 
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