February 12, 2007 -- The European Union has given its backing to a UN plan for the future status of Kosovo, which envisions greater autonomy for the province.
EU foreign ministers, in a statement issued after a meeting in Brussels today, said it would strengthen regional stability, and expressed "full support" for the plan's author, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.
The statement also urged Kosovo's Albanians and Serbia to participate actively and constructively in consultations with Ahtisaari on the future status of the breakaway Serbian province.
Under the plan, an international envoy -- a European official mandated by the United Nations and the European Union -- would take over supervision of Kosovo for a transition period, and the EU would deploy a police mission alongside the current 16,500-strong NATO peace force.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO drove out Serbian forces accused of killing thousands of ethnic Albanians.
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
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