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Further Delays Likely Before Kosovo's Status Decided

U.N. Kosovo Envoy Martti Ahtisaari is expected to unveil his proposal for the future of the U.N.-administered southern Serbian province on Friday. VOA's Barry Wood reports from Pristina, Kosovo's capital, that politicians in the province have been told the lack of consensus among outside powers is likely to delay U.N. action on the province's status until late in the year.

The Kosovo status proposal will be presented in both Brussels and Vienna on Friday. Foreign ministers of the six-nation contact group on the future of Kosovo will meet in the Belgian capital while Mr. Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, meets with other officials from the same countries in Vienna.

The contact group is made up of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States.

On February 2, Ahtisaari travels to Belgrade and Pristina to brief Serb and Kosovar leaders.

The prospect of further delay comes from Russian opposition to a status solution that is not acceptable to Serbia. With veto power in the Security Council, Russia has said it will not be rushed into accepting a proposal that would lead to Kosovo's independence.

Serbia continues to oppose independence, the outcome favored by the territory's 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority. The U.N. took over the administration of Kosovo in 1999 after 78 days of NATO bombing drove Serbian forces out of the province.

A British scholar representing the International Crisis Group in Kosovo, Alex Anderson, says Russia has not been moved by appeals from the western members of the contact group.

"If we look at a range of issues such as Burma, Iran, there is a certain degree of trepidation and expectation that we may see a similar pattern of Russia and China opposing measures that are being proposed by the U.S. and other allies," he said. "And Kosovo may fall into this situation too."

Ahtisaari's proposal is not expected to mention the word independence, but instead lay out a process that could lead to that result. He and members of the contact group hope to obtain Security Council action that would end the U.N. administration in Kosovo and transfer power to local institutions and the European Union.

NATO-led peacekeepers would continue to be responsible for security.

Anderson believes that while further delay will be unpopular, Kosovo's government is unlikely to respond with a unilateral declaration of independence.

"Ultimately, we will have grumbling here from the political class about the slowness of the process, but also an understanding that they cannot march too far out of step with their sponsors in the international community," he said.

Ahtisaari has been leading negotiations on Kosovo's status for 12 months. After concluding that Belgrade and Pristina could not agree on the status of Kosovo, the contact group authorized Ahtisaari to develop his own plan for the territory's future.