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Serbia, Backed by Russia, Seeks New Talks on Kosovo

The United Nations' special envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish President Martii Ahtisaari, discussed his controversial proposal for future independence of Kosovo with the Security Council Tuesday. The Security Council must support any plan pertaining to the status of the UN-administered province. VOA correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports from New York.

Mr. Ahtisaari' proposal recommends Kosovo's independence from Serbia, under supervision by the international community. The proposal also calls for broad rights for the minority Serbs in the province, allowing them to preserve their culture and identity and run their own municipalities.

Mr. Ahtisaari has been negotiating with ethnic Albanians and Serbs for over a year in search of a compromise on the future status of the province.

Belgrade, with the support of Russia, rejects the proposal, insisting that Kosovo remain an autonomous region of Serbia.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, speaking at the United Nations, said the proposal violates the territorial integrity of Serbia, and called on the United Nations to replace Mr. Ahtisaari and restart negotiations.

"We need a new start," said Vojislav Kostunica. "We supported the initiative by the Russian Federation for the Security Council to send a fact-finding mission to Serbia, both Belgrade and Pristina, to inquire into how things look. A compromise must take into account, first of all, this fundamental principal of the UN charter, territorial integrity and sovereignty of existing states, and then to look for a solution within that legal framework. The solution is, of course, substantive autonomy, the highest possible level of autonomy for Kosovo, which will enable Kosovo to develop its future, but without violating the UN Charter and without making a new very dangerous precedent in the world. That was our proposal."

Ethnic Albanians, who make up the bulk of the province's population, want independence and have the backing of the United States and European Union members.

Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said Kosovo's goal is to have Mr. Ahtisaari's proposal accepted as soon as possible.

"For us it is extremely important for this process to move forward as soon as possible and to be as efficient as possible," said Fatmir Sejdiu. "I must say that we have had 14 to 15 months of intensive negotiations and discussions and we have exhausted all possibilities of a negotiated agreement. The people of Kosovo are waiting and they have the right to have a clear perspective. Therefore, every delay, every postponement of the process will be completely counterproductive."

Several Security Council members are pushing for action by the end of the month, fearing that delays may lead to more tensions and violence in the area.