PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Kosovo will accept international "observation" or advice after United Nations mediation on its fate, but the West can no longer place conditions on its independence from Serbia, the province's ethnic Albanian prime minister says.
"There definitely cannot be any conditions or new interim phases since they are obstructing economic progress," Bajram Kosumi told Reuters in an interview before the UN Security Council launches talks on the future of the disputed territory at a session on Monday.
He said he expected an international "observation or advisory" mission after talks as "a psychological and practical guarantee for ethnic groups that their rights are observed."
"But Kosovo must be an independent and sovereign state."
Kosumi's comments mark a shift toward the compromise urged by the United States and European Union as they move to decide the status of the majority Albanian province, legally part of Serbia but run by the United Nations since the 1998-99 war.
But they differ from what diplomats say some Western capitals are considering -- an independent Kosovo without full sovereignty, where the international community would reserve certain powers for years to come, particularly over human rights and minority protection.
Diplomats say the West, though publicly refusing to back any particular solution, is preparing to push for "conditional independence" in talks that could last until spring next year.
Serbia says independence is impossible, conditional or not.
Serbs say Kosovo, home to scores of centuries-old Orthodox religious sites, is sacred land. A clue to the diplomatic minefield ahead was Belgrade's cancellation last week of a visit by the Slovenian president after he backed independence for Kosovo.
The West has all but written off Serbia's official offer of broad autonomy as unworkable, a red rag to 2 million Albanians -- 90 percent of the population -- who reject a return to Serb control.
"Belgrade will never have the right to decide Kosovo's future," said Kosumi. "If Belgrade was asked, Kosovo might not even exist today," he said, echoing some foreign observers who say Serbia lost the moral right to govern the province in 1999. Continued ...