By Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - The majority Albanian province of Kosovo can win independence from Serbia in 2006 but it will be conditioned by an "international supervision" proviso, diplomats and analysts say.
While Serbia insists Kosovo can only have autonomy, the West will steer talks due to begin later this year toward a form of "conditional independence", they say. Quite possibly it would be conditioned on accepting a European Union monitoring mission.
"Conditional independence is the central consensus in the international community," said a senior European diplomat. "There's an idea what the outcome will be, but … no blueprint."
Full sovereignty might be offered when democratic standards were achieved and only as Serbia and the states of the western Balkans join the EU over the course of the next decade.
The United Nations took control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of killing 10,000 Albanians in their 1998-99 war with separatist rebels.
Six years later, with the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority clamoring for independence, the major Western powers which intervened in 1999 say U.N.-protectorate status is no longer sustainable. They want a solution in 2006.
Serbs see Kosovo as their Jerusalem, the cradle of a thousand years of Orthodox Christianity. No Serbian leader has dared to admit it may soon be lost.
But Western governments believe Serbia has already lost Kosovo. The problem is getting Serbs to face up to reality.
"Reintegrating Kosovo into Serbia and Montenegro will not win the Albanians' consent. It could only be achieved and sustained by the use of force, which is why it will not happen," says Judy Batt of the Institute for Security Studies in Paris.
Faced with 1.9 million hostile Albanians, Serbia could not hope to govern Kosovo again, and cannot afford it, she adds.