GEORGE ROBERTSON, who as Defence Secretary co-ordinated the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign, is to return to the Balkans as peacemaker between Serbs and Albanians.
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen is to become chief negotiator between Belgrade and Pristina over the future of Kosovo, which wants to become independent after six years of NATO military presence.
Its ambition is backed by Albania, but bitterly opposed by the Serbs.
The United Nations, which has run Kosovo since the end of the bombing campaign, will today announce that Lord Robertson has agreed to come out of semi-retirement to conduct the crucial negotiations.
Since stepping down as NATO secretary-general in January last year, Lord Robertson has divided his time between his Islay family home and his £140,000-a-year Cable & Wireless directorship.
But he will now return in an attempt to ask Belgrade to compromise in granting independence to Kosovo.
Kosovo’s independence plans are backed by Britain and the United States, but vigorously opposed by traditional Serbian ally Russia - which has the power to veto any solution Lord Robertson comes up with over the next two years.
Belgrade insists on keeping Kosovo at least formally within its borders, as Northern Ireland is within Britain. But of its two million citizens, some 1.9 million are Albanians who want full independence.
Lord Robertson will also have to deal with a dispute over the 200,000 Serbs which Serbia says fled Kosovo during the conflict, and are now too frightened to return to the country. Kosovo Albanian officials put the figure at 70,000.
Violent anti-Serb riots swept parts of Kosovo in March last year - killing 19 and forcing thousands to flee their homes. There has been other documented evidence of ethnic Albanian militias preparing for a new uprising if they fail to secure independence.
Lord Robertson’s role will involve extensive shuttle diplomacy, assuring Belgrade that the Serbian minority will be protected and asking Pristina to compromise in its aim of full sovereignty and European Union membership.