Serbia has proposed that any decision on the status of its independence-minded province of Kosovo be postponed for 20 years. But the proposal was met by skepticism from the international community, and outright rejection by Kosovo's leader.
Faced with the increasingly likely prospect of an independent Kosovo, Serbia's President Boris Tadic Tuesday offered an alternative. Speaking to the U.N. Security Council, the Serbian leader proposed a plan for broad Kosovo autonomy, with a promise to revisit the question of independence later.
He spoke to the Council through an interpreter. "The Albanians of Kosovo and Mitohija would politically enjoy very wide autonomy, an autonomy that in most matters of everyday life would make them totally self-governing in relation to Belgrade, on condition that they accept the same autonomy in relation to Pristina for the Serbian entity in the province. The resulting negotiated settlement would be internationally guaranteed and, after an agreed period of time, say 20 years, may be subject to renegotiation."
Kosovo's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi attended the meeting, but did not speak. Afterward, however, he rejected the Serbian proposal. "I believe this is the appropriate moment where we have to close and end the Kosovo question. I do not think we should leave room for other periods to deal with the Kosovo question. Simply we need to give the people of Kosovo the chance to create their own lives and live in freedom," he said.
With U.N. sponsored talks on Kosovo's future set to begin next week in Vienna, talk around the Security Council table was of the prospect of independence, possibly as early as this year.
The U.N. appointed administrator of the province, Soren Jessen-Petersen, admitted that independence sparks fear in many members of Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority. But he noted that the status quo of U.N. administration is unsustainable, and urged Serbs in Kosovo to cooperate more fully with the region's ethnic Albanian majority.
"The best way of ensuring that the Kosovo Serbs have a voice, and that it is heard, would be for the Kosovo Serbs to engage directly with and ideally in, Kosovo's institutions. Belgrade's continuing refusal to countenance this does nothing to improve conditions for Serbs in Kosovo, and it does everything to worsen their already acute political isolation," he said.
Several Security Council ambassadors suggested in their comments that the issue should be settled this year, and that independence for Kosovo is a likely option.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the status talks beginning in Vienna could not ignore the wishes of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. "We must be realistic about possible outcomes. Independence is a possible outcome. Any status outcome must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo. We have to keep in mind that the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, the ethnic cleansing and humanitarian crisis of 1999 and the extended period of international administration under Security Council resolution 1244 make Kosovo a very special case," he said.
Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by more than nine to one.
The United Nations sent a mission to the province in 1999, with a strong NATO peacekeeping presence, after an alliance bombing campaign forced Serbian forces to withdraw and end a crackdown on separatist Albanian rebels.