February 2 the United Nations proposal for the future status of the disputed territory of Kosovo will be delivered to Serbian and Kosovar authorities. VOA's Barry Wood reports from the city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo that people in this divided city are eager to see what that proposal will say about local self-government in areas populated by minority Serbs.
The mood for now is relaxed in Mitrovica. The bridge that divides the ethnic Albanian and Serbian parts of the town is open and French soldiers from the NATO-led peacekeeping force for the most part are out of sight.
In the Albanian southern part of Mitrovica people fear that the U.N. proposal may give the minority Serbs too much autonomy and preserve their links to Belgrade. In the north, Serbs worry that the proposal will lead Kosovo toward independence.
Dragisha Milovic, the Serbian mayor of the village of Zvecan, says if Kosovo becomes independent Serbs living in ethnic Albanian-populated areas in the south will flee north.
"Any attempt to break ties between Serbs here in Kosovo and Metohjia [tied] with their motherland Serbia will inevitably lead to people fleeing. People will move out [with independence]," said Milovic.
Less than 10 percent of Kosovo's two million inhabitants are Serbs. Half of them live in enclaves scattered throughout the territory. Srboljub Milenkovic, a member of an advisory council in North Mitrovica, is more optimistic. He believes there will be cooperation between Serbs and Albanians, and dismisses the possibility that the government in Belgrade would ever order Serbs out of the southern enclaves.
"No, really. I can't even imagine that situation [occurring]," Milenkovic said.
Ylber Hysa is an ethnic Albanian member of the Kosovo legislative assembly and a member of the panel negotiating future status. He says the departure of the Serbian minority or secession by the north would be a huge setbacks for Kosovo. He says he hopes the Serbs will cooperate with the government in Pristina.
"If not, I think everyone will pay the price - Serbs, us, and the international community that has invested so much over these 15 years to transform this [troubled] part of Europe into a real [democratic] Europe," he said.
American diplomat Gerard Gallucci, who is the U.N. administrator in Mitrovica, says all of the territory's leaders know that the U.N. proposal is intended to lead to Kosovo independence. He says the proposal is unlikely to satisfy either Albanians or Serbs.
"I think everybody who had easy alternatives outside Kosovo has left already," he said. "I think the people who are left here don't have easy alternatives. And everybody, whether you're Serb or Albanian, certainly in this part of Kosovo, wants the same things in the future. They want peace, security and prosperity."
Gallucci said he is optimistic that in the coming weeks, people will choose to stay and give the status proposals a chance to succeed.