U.N. Hints at 'Independence' for Kosovo

A U.N. envoy recommends that the breakaway Serbian-province of Kosovo be granted "supervised independence." It's the first time that the word independence has been used by the U.N. in a proposal for the Balkan region. Russia is likely to object.

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Supervised independence, that's what a U.N. envoy is recommending for Kosovo. The breakaway-Serbian province has been run by the United Nations for the past eight years. That's when NATO bombers were called in to stop an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Albanian community. The region's status will be a hot topic at the U.N. in coming weeks as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The stage is set for a tough debate. Yesterday Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari delivered his report, saying after a year of negotiations it's clear that the Albanian population of Kosovo and the government of Serbia won't be able to reach a solution. So the only viable option for Kosovo, he said, is independence to be supervised by the international community. Diplomats have been dancing around that word, independence, in their search for a compromise, but Daniel Serwer of the U.S. Institute of Peace says it's time to let the people of Kosovo govern themselves.

Mr. DANIEL SERWER (Director, Institute of Peace and Stability Operations): They have gained a good deal of experience in doing that. And frankly, the only way for people to learn how to do it is to do it. I think the almost exclusive areas of concern are about the relationship between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. That's the area in which they need supervision.

KELEMEN: The idea is to have NATO and European forces protect minorities and Serbian orthodox churches, but Serbia opposes the Ahtisaari plan and it has a friend with veto power in the U.N. Security Council - Russia. Serwer predicts a lot of difficult negotiations in the coming weeks to persuade Russia that this is the best deal possible and that there's no turning back to Belgrade's rule.

Mr. SERWER: We're headed towards a difficult endgame here in which Belgrade will be under enormous pressure and the Americans will be trying to swing a deal with Russians.

KELEMEN: That might be possible. Russia's foreign minister was quoted recently as saying his country can't be more Serbian than the Serbs. And Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, isn't talking about a veto just yet. But Churkin has made clear that Russia would still prefer more talks between the Albanians and the Serbs.

Mr. VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Ambassador to United Nations): We do not see how the Security Council can support a solution which would impose things and, well, the council is supposed to sever a part of a country from a sovereign country. We just don't see how it is possible.

KELEMEN: The Russians argue that the Security Council would be setting a dangerous precedent, an idea rejected by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried.

Mr. DANIEL FRIED (Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of State): Kosovo is not precedent for any other area whether that's Alpazzia(ph) or Salsechia(ph), Chechnya, Transnestria, Corsica or Texas, okay? It just isn't and it won't be.

KELEMEN: There are no other cases of the U.N. running a territory for so many years, he said. And there are no other cases where NATO had to intervene to stop ethnic cleansing. As to Russian concerns about the safety of the minority Serbs in Kosovo, Fried says NATO will stay as long as needed.

Mr. FRIED: An orderly, well managed process where the international community remains united and allows for an extended international presence, which is an integral element of Ahtisaari's plan, is far preferable to stalemate, deadlock, dithering.

KELEMEN: The U.N. Security Council is expected to have its first formal debate on Kosovo's future next Tuesday.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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