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West Agrees to Four to Six Month Delay on Deciding Kosovo's Future

Neither last month's Group of Eight summit nor last week's meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin diminished Russia's opposition to conditional independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo. VOA's Barry Wood reports that the western powers have agreed to a four- to six-month delay to placate Russia, a move that worries analysts and politicians in Kosovo.

Alex Anderson, the Pristina representative of the International Crisis Group, is disappointed that the western powers agreed to a further delay in determining Kosovo's future. Delay, he says, carries with it additional risks. "This six months (of delay) where Pristina and Belgrade are going to be asked to get back together again to talk is going to result in a gradual meltdown of confidence here in Pristina," he said.

The delay is happening because Russia is threatening to use its United Nations veto to block implementation of a plan for Kosovo's conditional independence. That proposal was presented in April by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who conducted months of negotiations trying to get Belgrade and Pristina to agree on Kosovo's future. Anderson says the west now appears to be backing away from the Ahtisaari plan.

"They seem to be retreating from the logic of imposition of independence, which essentially the Ahtisaari program relied upon. And we seem now to be entering a territory more of attempting to gain the acquiescence of Serbia, with a subtext of a swap of territory in Kosovo for that acquiescence," he said.

Ninety-five percent of Kosovo's population is ethnic Albanian. The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999 when four months of NATO bombing drove the Serb forces fighting an Albanian insurgency out of the territory. Ahtisaari's plan would replace the U.N. administration with a European Union-led monitoring body. But to make that happen a new Security Council resolution is required. Russia is insisting that there be a new round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

Bayram Rexhepi, an official in Kosovo's second biggest political party, says it is pointless to hold more talks with the Serbs. He is not optimistic that United Nations will agree to implement the Ahtisaari plan.

"I think it will be very difficult to get a U.N. resolution. We will see, in consultation with the United States and European Union, how long this delay will be. If there is no strict timing we (in Kosovo) will have to do our job and probably make our declaration (of independence) and seek recognition," he said.

In Belgrade Thursday French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who was the first U.N. administrator in Kosovo, said Serbia cannot hope to deny Kosovo's independence and still expect to join the European Union.

Should there be no U.N. resolution, the United States has already indicated that it would recognize a declaration of Kosovo's independence.

Serbia says it will never accept independence for what it regards as its historic and spiritual heartland. On Wednesday, Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that if the United States and other countries want to have friendly relations with Serbia, they should respect that "Serbia will never allow a grab of (a) large part of its territory."