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Europe Ready to Recognize Kosovo's Independence


Finland's Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva said Monday most European Union member countries are prepared to recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia. VOA's Barry Wood reports Kanerva is in Washington meeting with U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Fresh from a visit to Kosovo, Kanerva said Kosovo is likely to declare independence very soon.

"So, in a way the moment has come," Kanerva said.

Diplomats say the Kosovo is likely to declare independence as early as February 17. Kanerva told a gathering at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center that the 27-nation European Union is set to approve sending to Kosovo a special mission to monitor the territory's supervised independence.

"That mission of approximately 1,000 people, working to create a civil society in Kosovo and promote the conditions and circumstances [of minorities] there," he said. "It is extremely important."

But the EU mission is denounced as illegal by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. He insists that only the United Nations has the authority to intervene in Kosovo, a de facto U.N. protectorate since 1999 when NATO bombing drove Serbian troops out of the province.

Russia, Serbia's ally, has blocked UN endorsement of an international plan for Kosovo's supervised independence. Kosovo is over 90 percent ethnic Albanian. Sixteen thousand NATO-led peacekeepers are in Kosovo.

Martin Sletzinger, the head of the Wilson Center's East European program, worries about Russia's capacity to cause trouble over Kosovo.

"I don't see how the Russians could physically stop the sending of the EU mission, but I think there are ways they can get European attention if they're unhappy, which would make some European Union countries at least think twice [about recognizing the new state]," he said.

Following independence, the European Union is to take over many of the administrative responsibilities currently vested in the United Nations. Kosovo's government is coordinating its independence declaration with both the United States and European Union. Most EU countries indicate they will quickly recognize Kosovo's independence, but Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Spain say they will wait and see.