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Kosovo Faces Post-Independence Uncertainties

As ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo prepare to declare independence, observers say work on a constitution is not expected to be finished in time for the declaration. VOA's Barry Wood reports from Pristina.

Many observers and sources in provincial politics say Kosovo is expected to declare independence sometime between February 10 and mid-March. If that is the case, they say, Kosovo is unlikely to have either a flag or a constitution in time for the declaration.

Choosing a flag has been contentious. The preferred banner of Kosovo's 90 percent Albanian majority is already taken. It is the double-headed black eagle on a red background, the national flag of neighboring Albania. Except in Serbian areas of the province, the Albanian flag flies throughout Kosovo, a territory one-third the size of Belgium.

Western governments, trying to negotiate a solution to the problem, have said the Albanian banner could not be part of Kosovo's flag. A national competition was held to choose a flag, but a winner has not yet been chosen.

A lawyer and political analyst in Pristina, Ilir Dugolli, says that in the absence of a national flag the population is likely to celebrate independence by waving the Albanian flag.

"That is the flag of Albanians as an ethnic group," Dugolli said. "And it is understandable that they are going to continue to use that, in social occasions and in private family occasions; just as Serbs and other ethnic groups will continue to use their [own] flags. But we are going to have one flag of this nation in building."

In northern Kosovo, the one-fifth of the territory adjacent to Serbia and home to half its 150,000 Serbs, the Serbian flag is the only one on display.

The U.N. regional administrator in the north, Gerrard Gallucci, says it is regrettable that Kosovo has not yet chosen a flag that would reach across ethnic lines.

"I think it is unfortunate that there is not such a symbol here in Kosovo," Dugolli said. "The reality is that people in the two major ethnic groups both wave other flags."

Meanwhile, a panel of 15 legal experts has been working on a new constitution for the past year. It is to be made public within three months, but is not expected to be ready before independence is declared.

There are other uncertainties. Diplomats in Pristina say Kosovo is unlikely to be admitted to the United Nations anytime soon. That step is likely to be blocked by Russia, which argues that independence is in violation of the Security Council resolution that established U.N. jurisdiction over Kosovo in 1999.

An independent Kosovo is expected to have an easier time winning admission to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Diplomats from the United States and the European Union say Kosovo is a special case. They support its declaration of independence, saying that is the best way to promote stability in the volatile Balkans region of southeast Europe.