PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Kosovo warned on Wednesday of rising Albanian tension and eventual street protests, on the eve of fresh talks led by the West and Russia on the fate of the breakaway Serbian province.
Senior ethnic Albanian political leader Veton Surroi said the patience of Kosovo’s 90 percent Albanian majority was not “limitless”, and protests “could not be excluded” if independence is delayed much longer.
A “troika” of envoys from the United States, European Union and Russia was due to meet in London on Thursday before going to Serbia and Kosovo, opening fresh diplomacy on top of 13 months of direct talks that ended in stalemate in March.
The United States, and EU members Germany, France and Italy lead 16,000 troops from 35 NATO and non-NATO countries in Kosovo. Their peacekeepers would be in the front line if frustration and unrest should turn to violence.
Serbian ally Russia has blocked a Western-backed U.N. plan for EU-supervised independence, eight years since NATO wrested control of the territory and the United Nations took over.
“We have to be aware that fear is building among the people,” Surroi told the Kosovo daily Express. “The people of Kosovo have a right to put pressure on their institutions.”
“There is a feeling they have sacrificed everything for the sake of Kosovo’s status. Not just the war, the burning and destruction, but everything they have sacrificed over the past eight years ... simply to have a status solution,” he said.
Surroi is a member of Kosovo’s ‘unity team’, a pact of government and opposition leaders created to maintain stability as pressure for independence mounts.
The new round of diplomacy and dialogue has been forced on the West by Russia, which threatened to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution based on the plan by envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
Western diplomats hold out little hope of a deal. Kosovo has threatened to declare independence, possibly before 2008, and seek recognition from Washington and its European allies, a move that could split the 27-member European Union.
Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on Wednesday the new talks were “simply to give more time to countries that have not yet decided whether to recognize Kosovo’s independence”.
Serbia rejects independence for its southern province. But the 2 million Albanians living there will accept nothing less, after almost half the population was temporarily expelled during Serbia’s 1998-99 war against separatist rebels. NATO bombed to drive out Serb forces and halt the slaughter of civilians.
Washington says the talks should run till December 10 -- the date for a progress report to the United Nations -- but no further.
Russia insists the dialogue should be open ended, and that any solution must have the agreement of both parties.
Serbia on Wednesday cautioned the United States against trying to revive the Ahtisaari blueprint, and called on Washington to show “full restraint and impartiality”.
Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Gordana Filipovic