Saturday, September 23, 2006

U.N. envoy dismisses fear of Kosovo precedent

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 22 (Reuters) - The U.N. envoy charged with proposing a solution to Kosovo's final status on Friday dismissed arguments that granting the breakaway Serbian province independence would set a dangerous precedent.

Martti Ahtisaari said after briefing the Security Council on talks he is conducting between Belgrade and Pristina, "We would be totally paralyzed if people would say, don't do this because it may have an effect on something else."

"This is a special case," the former Finnish president told reporters, arguing that Kosovo's history made it different from any other conflict in the Balkans or the Caucasus.

Major powers in a six-nation Contact Group overseeing Balkan diplomacy authorized Ahtisaari this week to propose a final status for Kosovo widely expected to lead to U.N.-imposed independence against Belgrade's will by the end of this year.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk warned Western nations that granting independence to Kosovo, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, could have a ripple effect from the Black Sea to the Caucasus.

"A lot of separatist regimes in the region are waiting for a solution of the Kosovo problem in order to undertake their action to separate," he said in a Reuters interview.

"Kosovo might be the precedent on which separatist regimes may take their decisions. This may undermine the efforts of the international community to bring settlements in Transdnestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh."

He was referring to so-called "frozen conflicts" in breakaway regions of the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia, where minorities backed by Moscow are seeking to secede, as well as in Azerbaijan.

Kosovo has been in limbo under U.N. administration since 1999 when NATO waged an air war to drive Serbian forces out of the southern province to stop ethnic cleansing ordered by the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

FULL SPEED AHEAD

Ahtisaari said the solution to any of these conflicts would need the consent of the U.N. Security Council, where the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France have veto power.

"This precedent discussion is perhaps more political than anything else. It's a reminder that somebody may in the debates in the Council use those arguments. But I don't think it has more importance than that. Because otherwise it would prevent us from solving this," he added.

Leaders of the Bosnian Serb republic have suggested in campaigning for an Oct. 1 election they would see independence for Kosovo as legitimizing their own right to secede.

Western governments this week brushed aside Russian and Serbian pleas to slow the process and allow more time for talks, and decided to press ahead for a settlement this year.

Asked whether he feared that Serbia or the Kosovo Albanians might walk out of the talks, Ahtisaari said he did not think they would. "Both sides have assured me -- whenever I have called them, they have come," he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told reporters, "We think it's important after seven years of uncertainty for Kosovo that the people of Kosovo and Serbia and the region deserve to have their status resolved."

Serbian President Boris Tadic, a pro-Western reformer, told the U.N. General Assembly this week that Belgrade had offered Kosovo greater autonomy than any other region in Europe.

But significantly he did not echo nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's insistence that Kosovo must remain forever Serbian.

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