Clock ticks for likely Kosovo independence bid
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The clock starts ticking on Monday toward a probable declaration of independence by Kosovo after extra-time negotiations failed to break a deadlock over the future of the breakaway Serbian province.
In a report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-moon last Friday, mediators from the United States, European Union and Russia said four months of talks had found no compromise on whether Kosovo should be independent or just self-ruled.
With the U.N. Security Council divided over what should happen next, Kosovo's 90-percent majority ethnic Albanians look set to formally declare independence some time in the first two months of next year.
That will be approaching nine years since NATO bombing pushed Serb forces out of Kosovo because of their ruthless tactics against an insurgency. The province has been under U.N. administration since then.
The United States and key European Union powers are gearing up to recognize an independent Kosovo, but Serbia says it will never accept that and is backed by its big-power ally Russia, which holds a veto in the Security Council.
The United Nations ordered the four months of negotiations, despite the failure of previous talks, after Russia blocked a resolution that would have paved the way for independence. The deadline was Monday, but given the deadlock, the mediators reported days before that.
The first move comes in Brussels on Monday when EU mediator Wolfgang Ischinger will brief EU foreign ministers on the talks between the Kosovo Albanians, who demanded independence, and Serbia, which offered autonomy within the Serbian state.
Leaders of the 27-nation bloc are expected to declare in a statement at a summit on Friday that negotiations are over and that the future of both Serbia and Kosovo lies in the European Union, diplomats said.
CHANGE OF STATUS
In a week's time, the focus shifts to the United Nations, where the Security Council will debate the issue on December 19. But Russia has already said it will call for more negotiations, something Western and Muslim states think is pointless.
Western diplomats say Russia has to recognize it is virtually isolated. "The question for the Russians is have they changed their position? They've had the further negotiating effort they wanted and there was no agreement," one senior Western envoy said.
"If there is no Russian change, then the idea is to change the status of Kosovo on the basis of existing (Security Council) resolutions," the envoy said. That would effectively take the issue away from the United Nations.
The key resolution is 1244, dating back to 1999, which set up the international presence in Kosovo following the NATO bombing. The West says there is nothing in it to prevent a move toward independence. Serbia and Russia disagree.
As envisioned by Western countries, the scenario would follow the outlines of a plan laid out earlier this year by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
The European Union would take over police and justice functions from the United Nations and appoint a civilian representative in a supervisory role. Some 16,000 NATO troops would continue to ensure order. Kosovo would declare independence. Those countries that wished to recognize it would do so. A limited U.N. mission would stay on.
One factor affecting the timing is a Western desire not to influence Serbian presidential elections, expected in January or February.
Still, no one can be sure how Serbs would react to Kosovo independence. Both Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians have pledged to refrain from violence, but there has been talk in Serbia of border closures and trade blockades, and NATO fears possible low-level clashes between Kosovo Albanians and minority Serbs.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)