The breakup of the former Yugoslavia involved a decade of war, suffering and ethnic conflict, on the fringes of modern Europe. Now the final act is being played out, as the mostly Albanian province of Kosovo threatens to declare independence from Serbia, breaking up the final rump of the old Yugoslavia. As so often before, the threatened breakup is dividing the international community: setting the United States and much of the West against the Serbs and Russia - while an anxious Europe watches and tries to maintain unity. From Brussels, Nina-Maria Potts reports Europe is trying to maintain a united front over the issue.
Kosovo: Serbia's so-called historic 'heartland' is preparing to break away, without Belgrade's consent.
The United States, Britain and most European countries support independence for Kosovo -- and a move is underway for the quick recognition of independence.
In Brussels, Kosovo's new prime minister, Hashim Thaci, met with top EU and NATO officials to set out a timetable for independence. He later told reporters independence is a "matter of days."
While some EU nations see Kosovo's unilateral secession as a dangerous precedent for separatist minorities at home, this is not a majority view.
Joost Lagendijk, Member of the European Parliament responsible for Kosovo, says the EU must stand united on the Kosovo issue. "Everybody realizes, even the skeptics, this is a European issue, that the European Union has to solve. It's on our doorstep. And Kosovo and Serbia are future EU member states, so it's our business and we should take care of that, and that will happen."
The EU plans to send a 1800-strong police and judiciary mission to support Kosovo's transition.
With no representation abroad, Kosovo is advised by a non-profit venture, Independent Diplomat, headed in Brussels by Nicholas Whyte. He says the reluctance of some countries to recognize independence, does not mean the EU's hands are tied. "I am very struck that nobody is saying they will prevent the EU mission from deploying in Kosovo, no one is saying they will prevent the EU from acting in Kosovo, as has been planned," Whyte said.
But Serbia - backed by Russia - has challenged the EU mission's mandate, and any deployment of peacekeepers operating outside the existing U.N. framework.
Serbia's Ambassador to the EU, Roksanda Nincic, says, "We think that the only legal possibility for exchanging one mission for another, will be by a new Security Council resolution. This has not happened."
Some voices in Europe fear a Serb nationalist revival, almost nine years after NATO drove out Serb forces, and the UN took control of Kosovo. And EU countries are watching carefully, anxious to avoid regional conflict, and keep Serbia on the path towards eventual EU membership.