March 7, 2008 / 2:08 PM / 11 years ago

No going back on Kosovo, says Ahtisaari

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Kosovo’s independence is irreversible and Serbia is damaging its own interests by not accepting it, former U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari said.

“There is no return to the past. Kosovo is now independent and it will start seeking membership in the international financial institutions to improve its economy as its first priority,” Ahtisaari told Reuters in an interview.

The former Finnish president spent 18 months trying to find a compromise between Serbia and the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority which declared Kosovo independent last month.

His plan for independence, with guarantees of Serb minority rights, is now being implemented over the protests of Serbia which has vowed never to recognize its southern province as a separate republic.

Ahtisaari said Serbia had lost Kosovo in June 1999 when NATO troops took over the territory to end their ethnic cleansing of the Albanians in a counter-insurgency war. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since.

Serbia should now look to the future instead of jeopardizing its chances of European Union membership by active resistance.

By 2005, he said, 47 percent of the Serbian population said in opinion polls they had lost Kosovo. “So population seems to be wiser than the political leadership in that country.”

TWO-FACED RUSSIA

Serbia, backed by Russia, says Kosovo’s independence is illegal and that it will not recognize an EU mission to be deployed in Kosovo in the coming weeks, replacing the U.N. mission.

Ahtisaari said Russia was a constructive member of the six-power Contact Group which guided Kosovo diplomacy for most of the past decade, and had agreed to many statements which it now seemed to have forgotten.

“What worries me even more, and I have said it to my Russian friends, is that their behavior in the Security Council has prevented agreement in the Council and that has undermined ... the role of the Security Council.”

The Contact Group includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy — which have all recognized Kosovo.

“At the end of January 2006, Contact Group members, including Russia, accepted that the solution for Kosovo had to be accepted by Kosovo. And if 90 percent of them are Kosovo Albanians, we know what the outcomes are,” Ahtisaari said.

He said it was important for Kosovo to become a member of international financial institutions to get started with infrastructure investments and hoped it could become a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as soon as this year.

“They need to become members of international financial institutions like the IMF. The U.N. can come later, that is not so important if some countries are causing a problem.”

Ahtisaari said he expected the other countries to come around soon and back Kosovo.

“I hope that when this first phase is over and everyone recognizes that there is no return to anything else except what we have, that this will have a sobering effect,” he said.

He also said the decision on Kosovo should not be seen as a precedent for other countries or other crises, as feared by those like Cyprus, an EU member since 2004 but with an unrecognized Turkish Cypriot state in its north.

“Every conflict has a life of its own,” he said, adding that each case should be tried individually and no conflicts should be left “frozen”.

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