Saturday, November 11, 2006

Decision on Kosovan independence to be postponed: Delay prompted by fears over Serbian nationalism Proposal to be announced after Belgrade elections


LENGTH: 383 words

The international powers have put off deciding to impose independence on Kosovo in an attempt to forestall extreme nationalists coming to power in Serbia.Serbia yesterday announced early elections for January 21, with the extreme nationalist Radical party tipped to emerge as the strongest party. Simultaneously in Vienna, the UN envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, and diplomats from the US, Europe and Russia went back on earlier pledges to resolve Kosovo's status this year. They said they would wait until after the Serbian ballot before making public their recommendations.Kosovo, which has an Albanian majority, is formally part of Serbia but won an independence war in 1999 when the Serbian authorities were driven out by Nato. Since then it has been under UN control.Mr Ahtisaari has been negotiating with the Serbs and Albanians since February in a vain attempt to find a settlement. Since there is no prospect of agreement, he is to propose to the UN security council that the international community impose his recommendations. "I have decided to present my proposal for the settlement of Kosovo's status to the parties without delay after parliamentary elections in Serbia," Mr Ahtisaari said in Vienna.Serbian officials have been trying to delay a decision on Kosovo and are waging a ferocious campaign warning of the risks to international stability of an independent Kosovo. Last month the prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, rushed through a new constitution proclaiming Kosovo forever part of Serbia. The Kosovo issue will dominate the election campaign.In a study of the new constitution this week, the International Crisis Group thinktank said that Serbia was turning its back on mainstream liberal democracy in Europe and reverting to a role as a nationalist, authoritarian seat of instability in the Balkans.Mr Ahtisaari, strongly backed by the US and Britain, is certain to recommend that Serbia lose Kosovo, although the province's independence will be hedged with conditions that fall short of full sovereignty for some time to come. Tensions are rising as the deadline for a decision nears. Any longer postponement risks an explosion of frustration among Kosovo's two million Albanians.Ethnic Albanians in Pristina, Kosovo's capital. Kosovo has an Albanian majority