Martti Ahtisaari has spent some nine months in talks with Serbian and Kosovar Albanian leaders over the province's future. And today he will discuss his findings with representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States, at an undisclosed location in Vienna.
Ahtisaari's months of talks are widely reported to have made little progress. Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority continues to demand independence from Serbia. Belgrade, backed by the province's ethnic Serbian minority, wants Kosovo returned to Serbian sovereignty and granted limited autonomy at most.
Details Slowly Emerging
Because today's session of the Contact Group took place behind closed doors, no statements were made to the press. But in recent days Ahtisaari has given hints of the broad outlines of his plan.
"My proposal takes into account the results of the talks between the sides and, where no agreement was reached, I have proposed solutions that I judge to be fair and balanced," Ahtisaari told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on January 24. "My settlement proposal focuses strongly on the protection of minority rights. It provides the foundations of a democratic and multiethnic Kosovo in which the rights and interests of all members are firmly guaranteed and protected by institutions based on the rule of law."
Ahtisaari did not say whether this future Kosovo would be independent. But he is widely reported to favor some form of limited statehood for Kosovo.
German Foreign Ministry State Secretary Gernot Erler said this week that the UN envoy's proposal will "advocate independence for Kosovo, but with limits on its sovereignty."
Continuing International Involvement
Ahtisaari also hinted on January 24 that there will be continuing international involvement in Kosovo for years to come. "[The settlement proposal] also forces strong international civilian and military presences within the broader future international engagement in Kosovo," he said.
The details could become known on February 2, when Ahtisaari presents his proposal to the Serbian and Kosovar leaderships.
After that, the last -- and perhaps most difficult stage of the process -- begins: getting the UN Security Council to approve the proposal.
So far, Russia, Belgrade's traditional ally, has threatened to veto any resolution that would bestow independence on the province. If Kosovo gets independence, Serbia would lose some 15 percent of its territory.
The Showdown Ahead
No date has been set yet for taking Ahtisaari's plan to the Security Council. And in the weeks ahead, all players can be expected to mobilize for the diplomatic showdown ahead.
The crisis over Kosovo's status dates to 1989, when then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic revoked the province's autonomy.
In 1998, armed Kosovar Albanian separatists challenged Serbian rule and Milosevic responded with a military crackdown that resulted in hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fleeing their homes.
NATO launched a 77-day air campaign in 1999 to force Belgrade's forces to withdraw from the province and the international community took stewardship of its 2 million people.
WILL THE KREMLIN BACK INDEPENDENCE? As the drive for independence grows in the Serbian province of Kosovo, the international community is speculating on how Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, will act. On September 22, Nicholas Whyte, director of the International Crisis Group's Europe Program, gave a briefing on the subject at RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., office. He speculated on what the Kremlin's "price" might be for agreeing to Kosovo's separation from Serbia.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 45 minutes):
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