Friday, July 20, 2007

Kosovo eyes November 28 independence declaration

By Fatos Bytyci Fri Jul 20, 7:21 AM ET

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on Friday the province should declare unilateral independence from Serbia on November 28, arguing that a Western bid to steer its secession through the United Nations had failed.

Faced with a threatened Russian veto, the West looks likely on Friday to shelve the latest, watered-down U.N. resolution on the fate of the U.N.-run province.

Ceku's announcement threw down the gauntlet to the European Union, which fears a unilateral move by Kosovo outside the United Nations would split the 27-member bloc.

Ceku said the Kosovo parliament should adopt a resolution setting the date on his return from Washington, where on Monday he is due to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"November 28 is a day of celebration," he said after meeting Kosovo's U.N. governor, when asked by reporters why he had chosen that day. November 28 marks independence day in neighboring Albania, a date also celebrated by Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority.

"The United Nations has failed to act," Ceku added.

The U.N. governor, Joachim Ruecker, did not comment on the issue. Technically, the U.N. mission would have to annul any unilateral declaration, and risk a violent backlash.

Ceku said he proposed the move to President Fatmir Sejdiu and opposition leaders, but did not say whether they had agreed.

Kosovo has so far shied away from setting a deadline without explicit Western support, and some ethnic Albanian leaders fear it will only antagonize their backers.

Russia is frustrating Western efforts to steer Kosovo's secession through the United Nations, eight years since NATO allies wrested control of the territory from Serbia to halt the killing of Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to discuss the issue in Berlin on Friday with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

DIFFERENT OPTIONS

Moscow has rejected the latest draft U.N. resolution, which would mandate the EU to take over from the U.N. mission and calls for another 120 days of Serb-Albanian talks in a bid to win Russia's support. Moscow says it still amounts to independence for Kosovo, which Belgrade has ruled out.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, told reporters in New York: "I can only conclude that we are not going to progress in the council (so) we are looking energetically at the different options."

Envoys of the six-power Contact Group on Kosovo - the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia - are expected to meet in Vienna next week to discuss launching another 120 days of shuttle diplomacy.

Thirteen months of Serb-Albanian talks ended in stalemate in March, before U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari proposed independence supervised by the European Union.

Washington has indicated it would support a unilateral declaration, but the EU says it needs a U.N. resolution, not least to deploy its largest ever civilian mission.

Kosovo Albanian leaders face mounting public pressure to strike out alone, and threats of unrest if they do not.

Ceku said the resolution would invite the European Union to take over supervision of the territory.

The West sees little prospect of forcing Kosovo Albanians back into the arms of Belgrade, but Serb ally Russia says any solution at the United Nations must have Serbian consent.

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