United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari on Friday presented his long-awaited proposal on the status of the mainly ethnic-Albanian populated Serbian province of Kosovo, which has been administered by the United Nations since 1999. VOA's Barry Wood reports that while the Serbian government immediately denounced the proposal as a recipe for independence, it was well received by the Kosovo authorities, the European Union and the United States.
The U.S. State Department called the proposal fair and balanced, a blueprint for a stable multi-ethnic Kosovo. Britain's foreign secretary called it a basis for a fair and sustainable settlement.
Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, delivered his 58-page document to officials in Belgrade and then in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. The Finnish elder statesman called his draft proposal a compromise that could be amended and invited the Serbs and Kosovars to meet in Vienna for consultations.
The Ahtisaari proposal mentions neither independence nor Serbia's long dominion over the province, which has been a center of Serbia's orthodox Christianity for 600 years. It does specify conditions under which Kosovo would write a constitution and gain membership in international organizations. The European Union would take over Kosovo's support role from the United Nations and supervise the development of state institutions.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica denounced the proposal as "illegitimate" because he said it "violates the U.N. Charter ... by undermining sovereignty of U.N. member Serbia." He added that Serbia is prepared to break diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes the independence of Kosovo.
Serbian Pesident Boris Tadic did meet with Ahtisaari, but was also critical of the proposal, saying it paves the way for Kosovo's independence, which he could never accept.
In Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital, the reaction to the proposal was much warmer. President Fatmir Sejdiu said he and other leaders in the province anticipated the prospect of "Kosovo becoming an independent state." He also pledged to guarantee the rights and security of its 100,000-member Serb minority.
Daniel Serwer, a Balkans specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace, wondered why the Serbian reaction was so negative.
"It's rather ironic that Serbia is rejecting it as unacceptable since it does not cross Serbia's red line [by openly endorsing independence] while it does cross the Kosovo red line, which is that they wanted something that made their future absolutely clear," he noted. "Yet, they're accepting it and Belgrade is rejecting it."
In order to take effect, the Ahtisaari proposal has to be endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, an outcome that is not assured since Russia has threatened to veto any measure unacceptable to Belgrade.
Martin Sletzinger, East Europe director at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, believes that in the end Russia will not stand in the way of a settlement.
"I think the United States [right now] is probably negotiating furiously behind the scenes with the Russians to make sure that when Ahtisaari's proposal is actually turned into a Security Council resolution, it's done in such a way that the Russians won't veto," he said. "They may not have to say yes, but they can avoid a veto and abstain."
Vladimir Matic, a former Yugoslav diplomat who is now a political scientist at Clemson University, says Kostunica is playing a dangerous game by threatening to break diplomatic relations with any country recognizing an independent Kosovo.
"I think the biggest loser in this game is the Serbian people," he said. "And it runs contrary to the national interest of Serbia, obviously. And everybody knows that Serbia doesn't have the power to support such a diplomatic position."
The United Nations took over Kosovo after nearly three-months of NATO aerial bombing in 1999 drove Serbian forces out of the territory. The Serbs were accused of widespread atrocities in their campaign against ethnic Albanian rebels.