Monday, February 19, 2007

ROME — Any attempt by the international community to deny Kosovo independence will set off “a new Balkan war,” a senior Kosovar negotiator cautioned yesterday.

Speaking as he prepared to take part in final talks between delegations from Kosovo and Serbia scheduled for today in Vienna, Austria, negotiator Ylber Hasa said Kosovars believe they already have made extensive compromises.

“That does not leave much room for maneuver. [The] package includes serious compromises in favor of the Serbs … so if anybody tries to buy time, I don’t think anyone will win. We’ll just lose the possibility of a political solution.”

At issue is a proposal on the future status of Kosovo drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

Both Serbs and Kosovars are unhappy with the plan, which gives self-rule to the province and allows it to have its own army, flags and other trappings of nationhood. But the province would remain technically part of Serbia and minority Serbs would have control over their own affairs.

Mr. Ahtisaari accepted a request for a 10-day delay on the talks until today, so Serbia could try to form a government after elections held last month.

Some international diplomats have speculated that a watered-down version of his proposals may be adopted by the U.N. Security Council, which would lessen the degree of Kosovo’s de facto independence.

“If you want to see a new Balkan war, that is the perfect scenario,” said Mr. Hasa, who wrangled for years with Serbian delegates over the future of Serbian cultural sites and monuments in Kosovo.

Serbs are a small minority in Kosovo, which is overwhelmingly populated with ethnic Albanians.

Mr. Hasa gave the interview on the sidelines of an Italian Foreign Ministry conference on Kosovo held in Rome.

Recent clashes in Pristina, in which two demonstrators were killed in a protest calling for independence, are a further warning that the province could explode if ethnic-Albanian hopes are dashed, he said.

In the latest incident, an explosion damaged three U.N. vehicles in Kosovo’s capital yesterday, causing no injuries but raising tensions in the disputed province.

NATO-led peacekeepers sealed the blast area in downtown Pristina and were investigating, police spokesman Veton Elshani said.

In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the Serbian negotiating team at the Vienna talks would be “very constructive, but will oppose all provisions that violate Serbia’s integrity.”

A senior U.N. official said yesterday there is “no realistic alternative” to the U.N. proposal to put Kosovo on the road to eventual independence.

The United Nations has governed Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign halted an attempt by Serbs to drive ethnic Albanians out of the province.

NATO maintains a 16,000-member peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

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