World News

Russia, Kosovo clash over independence plan

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - The prime minister of Kosovo requested clarification on Tuesday of an apparent warning from Russia that it would veto a Western-backed plan to give the breakaway Serbian province independence.

Opposing Russian and Western positions on Kosovo’s future status have hardened ahead of a U.N. Security Council fact-finding mission to the disputed territory this week.

“We are not alone in this process,” said Kosovo premier Agim Ceku. “Saying ‘No’ to (the) plan is not just a ‘No’ to us. It is a ‘No’ to the international community, the United States and United Kingdom.”

The plan by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari would make Kosovo independent under European Union supervision. It is strongly opposed by Serbia, with the backing of Russia.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was well aware of Russian and Serbian opposition to the plan “but it’s time to try to craft a solution that will over time be durable”.

In Moscow, a foreign ministry spokesman declined to confirm an apparent veto warning attributed to Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov by Interfax news agency.

Interfax quoted him as saying: “A decision based on Martti Ahtisaari’s draft will not get through the U.N. Security Council.

“I think the threat of using the veto should stimulate the sides to find a mutually acceptable mechanism.”

Asked to clarify whether Titov’s remarks meant Russia would use its veto, a Foreign Ministry spokesman referred Reuters to comments made by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a visit to Serbia last week.

Lavrov said that until a resolution was put before the Security Council “there is nothing to veto”. He said Russia wanted further talks on Kosovo’s status.

At Russia’s suggestion, ambassadors of the 15 U.N. Security Council members are due in Kosovo this week to assess the situation on the ground before considering the Ahtisaari plan.

The majority Albanian province has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces to stop them killing and expelling ethnic Albanian civilians while fighting a separatist insurgency.

The United States and major European Union powers want the Security Council to endorse the independence plan by mid-year and are worried Albanian impatience might turn to unrest.

Diplomats say the Kosovo Albanians would likely declare independence unilaterally without a U.N. resolution, a move foreign analysts say Serbia could exploit to snatch the Serb-dominated north.

Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci and the Washington bureau