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US Reaffirms Backing for Supervised Kosovo Independence

A senior State Department official Wednesday reaffirmed U.S. backing for giving Kosovo supervised independence if negotiations over the status of the United Nations-administered Serbian province do not produce an agreement by December 10. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told Congress the NATO force in Kosovo will put down any attempt to oppose the transition by force. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department's policy point man for Kosovo says the international community will have to step up to its responsibility on Kosovo in the absence of a negotiated deal. And he is giving Serbia, which opposes independence for the region, an implicit warning not to try to forcibly resist such an outcome.

Burns testified before a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee after conferring earlier Wednesday with the European Union envoy to the Kosovo status talks, Wolfgang Ischinger and U.S. Kosovo special envoy Frank Wisner.

The so-called troika of the E.U., the United States and Russia is sponsoring talks between Serbia and the leaders of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority aimed at producing a mutually-agreed settlement of Kosovo's future status in advance of a December 10th U.N. deadline.

But the talks, which resume next week in Brussels, have been deadlocked with the Kosovar Albanians demanding outright independence and Serbia holding to an offer of autonomy.

Burns, the third-ranking State Department official, reaffirmed U.S. backing for moving to a period of supervised independence for Kosovo leading to full independence for the province, as proposed by U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari early this year.

Some Serbian political figures have suggested the country might resist implementation of the Ahtisaari plan by force, and other Balkans states are concerned about political unrest in Kosovo after the deadline.

However Burns said he sees no reason for instability, given the NATO troop presence, which is to continue indefinitely. He said he hopes very much that Serbia will not try to instigate unrest, especially in the northern part of Kosovo where there is a sizeable Serb minority.

"We have 17,000 NATO military personnel in Kosovo, including about 1,500 American troops. Those troops are there to maintain law and order. They will put down any attempt by any party to take the law into their own hands, or to seek a partition, or to seek instability. And I think we can trust NATO to do the job, and at the same time trust our diplomacy to be successful in convincing the people of the country to move forward, considering the fact that 95 per cent of the people who live in Kosovo now are Kosovar Albanian Muslims.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO air campaign drove out forces of the former Yugoslavia waging a brutal campaign against ethnic-Albanian separatists.

Kosovar Albanian leaders have threatened to unilaterally declare independence and seek international recognition once the negotiations end.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Tuesday that an independent Kosovo would violate the Serbian constitution and that Belgrade is determined to find a compromise that would keep the disputed province within Serbia but with maximum rights.

The troika is to conduct two more rounds of talks with the parties and then report to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on December 10th.

Burns said implementing the Ahtisaari plan is the best alternative in the absence of a negotiated deal.

He said Serbia, by accepting that outcome, can end lingering tensions from the 1990's Balkans conflicts and seek a place in the European Union and a relationship with NATO.