By NICHOLAS WOOD
BELGRADE, Serbia, June 8 — Seven years after Kosovo was placed under United Nations control, it appears increasingly likely that the province will be allowed to break away from Serbia formally and become an independent nation.
Members of the United Nations Security Council appear to be leaning toward permitting Kosovo to go its own way. The Council is expected to vote on Kosovo's fate by the end of the year, unless the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, who have been negotiating unsuccessfully for months, reach a resolution.
But some of the world's most powerful countries are fearful the move will encourage separatist movements elsewhere to intensify their often bloody struggles and give hope to nascent independence groups that have not yet begun to fight.
On the other hand Russia, which had been adamantly opposed to Kosovo's independence, has indicated that it may set a welcome precedent for pro-Russian movements in Georgia and Moldova.
The six nations working on a plan for Kosovo's future — Britain, France, Italy, the United States, Germany and Russia — have coordinated international policy there since the province came under the control of the United Nations.
Their representatives say they will try to draft a resolution for the Security Council that will be so specific to the province that it will avoid setting a precedent for other separatists.
The United Nations has controlled Kosovo, which is still officially a part of Serbia, since June 1999, when Yugoslav troops accused of committing widespread atrocities were forced to withdraw after months of NATO-led bombing. In 1998 and 1999, an estimated 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanian civilians, were killed as the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army and the Serbian police cracked down on an ethnic Albanian insurgency.
Diplomats who represent the United States and Britain in the talks say they believe that the only solution Kosovo's ethnic Albanians will accept is independence, but the diplomats insist that such a new state must provide guarantees for the minority Serbs. Other Western governments also want to find a speedy solution because they are growing weary of financing the peacekeeping troops and the international officials who now administer the province.
But Serbian leaders, wounded by Montenegro's recent break from Serbia and bitterly opposed to yet another split, say Kosovo independence could encourage the breakup of Bosnia and Herzegovina, another former Yugoslav republic.
Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Bosnian Serb republic — the area seized by Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-1995 war — said the region should "affirm the right to self-determination" by holding a referendum. The republic has remained part of Bosnia since the end of the conflict, but many Bosnian Serb politicians have long hoped to unite with neighboring Serbia. A referendum could split Bosnia and provoke renewed violence.
While Mr. Dodik later toned down his remarks, saying the suggestion was "theoretical," ethnic Serbian politicians throughout the region say that if Kosovo becomes independent, pressure will inevitably increase for the breakup of Bosnia.
Some leaders in Serbia have suggested that Kosovo itself should be split, with the Serb-dominated north allowed to remain a part of Serbia, while the Albanian-dominated south forms its own government.
"If the Albanians want independence, maybe they should give something in return," Cedomir Antic, a member of the G17 Plus, a political party in Serbia's coalition government, said in a recent interview.
The United Nations Mission in Kosovo recently announced the deployment of an additional 500 police officers in the north, after threats by local leaders to form vigilante groups to provide security for Serbs against Albanians. Ethnic Albanian leaders have said the threats signal a separatist intent. The NATO-led peacekeeping force also said it would re-open a military base in the area.
In the Caucasus, two pro-Russian breakaway areas of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, might seek statehood on their own. Both have been outside the control of Georgia's government since the early 1990's. In addition, Transnistria, a Communist-run separatist region on the eastern edge of Moldova, may seek independence.
In January, President Vladimir V. Putin made it clear that he regarded Kosovo as a precedent for the Caucasus, saying, "If someone believes that Kosovo should be granted full independence as a state, then why should we deny it to the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians?"
Abkhaz politicians have asserted recently that their claims for international recognition are stronger than Kosovo's, because they are not under international protection and because, in their view, they have had a democratic government for almost 12 years.
U.N. Leader in Kosovo to Leave
By The New York Times
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, June 12 — Soren Jessen-Petersen, the chief of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, announced Monday that he would step down from his post at the end of this month.
Mr. Jessen-Petersen, a Dane, has been in Kosovo since June 2004, and is the United Nations' longest serving head of mission since it took over the administration of the province from Serbia in 1999. He said he was stepping down for "family reasons."