Saturday, March 31, 2007

IHT: EU fails to endorse Kosovo independence plan

BREMEN, Germany: The European Union on Friday failed to muster unanimous support for a contentious plan to grant partial independence to Serbia's Kosovo province — but officials said reservations by three countries would not derail the plan, which now heads for a vote in the U.N. Security Council.

"There are still some hesitations" about granting Kosovo internationally supervised independence, said Slovene Foreign Minister Dimitri Rupel after an EU foreign ministers meeting.

Slovakia, Romania and Greece were not yet ready to approve the proposal to grant the province of two million people — 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians — internationally supervised statehood and elements of independence including its own army, flag, anthem and constitution.
Diplomats downplayed the significance of these reservations, saying it was crucial to win UN Security Council endorsement for the plan, drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.

"We are dependent on an agreement in the Security Council," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said outside a meeting of the 27 EU foreign ministers.

Ahtisaari's plan faces an uncertain future in the Security Council. Russia supports Serbia, which wants the province to remain within its borders, and has implied it could use its veto power in the council if Belgrade's interests are not addressed.

Reservations within the EU about cutting Kosovo loose from Serbia have long been rooted in fears of setting a precedent for other independence-minded areas in Europe.

EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana and Olli Rehn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, briefed the EU foreign ministers on the significant financial and security challenges facing Kosovo if it achieves internationally supervised statehood.

They asked for sustained EU financial and technical support for Kosovo in the years ahead in areas such as security, the economy and political reforms.

The two have previously warned the Balkans could again be engulfed in violence akin to the wars in the 1990s during the breakup of Yugoslavia unless the future status of Kosovo is resolved quickly.

"It is of vital importance to the EU and the security of Europe," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir said. "It is our neighborhood, a top priority for us."
Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since NATO launched airstrikes in 1999 to halt a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels.

About 200,000 people are believed to have perished in a series of wars sparked by the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The conflicts, which spread from Slovenia to Croatia, Bosnia and finally Kosovo, cost the international community an estimated US$110 billion dollars, two-thirds of which was paid directly or indirectly by EU member nations.

The EU is planning a 2,000-strong mission for Kosovo, the largest the EU has ever had. After Kosovo's final status has been determined, the EU team will move in to assist local authorities in developing autonomous institutions, police and judiciary and ensure the rights of minorities are observed. The EU also wants to prepare Kosovo for closer ties with the 27-member bloc.

Solana and Rehn have estimated that Kosovo will need international aid of up to €1.5 billion (US$2 billion) in the first three years after the final status of the Serb province is determined. The money will be needed to cover Kosovo's share of the Yugoslav debt, the cost of implementing Kosovo's status, economic development and an international military and civilian presence.

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