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UN: Security Council Offers Little Suspense On Kosovo

A defiant map emphasizing Kosovo as part of Serbia adorns a bus in Belgrade (AFP) UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council's final session of the year on Kosovo has concluded without agreement and, judging by the comments of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu, Belgrade and Pristina remain as far apart as ever.

The Kosovar president told Security Council members that independence is the only option for his people, and that "the positions of Serbia and Kosovo remain fundamentally irreconcilable."

For his part, Prime Minister Kostunica said Belgrade will use all means short of military force to prevent Kosovo from declaring independence unilaterally. He said it made no difference that the EU and United States would support Kosovo's declaration. "There is no difference if something is illegal and is done by one country or few countries in coordinating manner -- it remains illegal," Kostunica said. "So there is no difference between unilateral declaration of independence and coordinated declaration of independence of Kosovo. It's very simple."

The Serbian leader added that "Serbia will proclaim any such decision from the point of the UN Charter -- and Serbia appears to be in this case guardian of the UN Charter -- compared to the countries that are violating the UN Charter." He insisted that only the Security Council can resolve the Kosovo issue, and all attempts to bypass it must be considered a violation of the international law.

But Sir John Sawers, the British ambassador to the UN, said the stalement as the December 19 session closed proved that a final settlement plan for the breakaway province cannot be resolved in the Security Council. He said two years of intensive efforts have failed to breach the gap between the two sides. Indeed, he said, even the status-neutral agreement by the Kosovo "troika" -- the EU, Russia, and the United States -- has been firmly rejected by Belgrade.

"The time has come, in the United Kingdom's view, for us now to take the necessary action to resolve the status of Kosovo," Sawers said. "We would have preferred to do that through the Security Council, but we are entirely confident that [Security Council] Resolution 1244 provides a sufficient legal base to move forward to a final settlement to establish the necessary authorities needed to achieve that."

Drifting Toward Ahtisaari Plan

Sawers said that affirmation of EU special envoy Marrti Ahtisaari's plan, which recommends supervised independence for Kosovo, is the best way forward. Kosovo's Sejdiu agreed that the Ahtisaari plan "provides a solid basis for us moving forward" and vowed that Kosovo would cooperate with NATO and the UN and "continue to hold out the hand of friendship to Serbia."

"I did call on our Russian colleague, Ambassador Churkin, one final time, to embrace the Ahtisaari plan as the sensible way forward with council endorsement," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad said after the session, "but if he does not change that position, the United States, Europeans, and others are determined to move forward with the implementation of that plan."

Speaking for the European members of the Security Council (France, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, and Germany), Johan Verbeke, Belgium's ambassador to the UN, agreed that the final debate confirmed that the differences between the two sides remain "irreconcilable" on the fundamental question of sovereignty. "It is clear in our view that more negotiations in this or any other format will not make a difference," Verbeke said. "We therefore endorse the view of the European Union and U.S. negotiators in the 'troika' that the potential for negotiated solution is now exhausted."

The status quo is unsustainable, Verbeke said, and a continuing international presence in Kosovo is needed to guarantee the stability of the region. The EU stands ready to play a leading role in implementing a settlement defining the future status, he said.

Verbeke stressed the view, held by both the EU and United States, that resolving Kosovo's status will not set a precedent. But Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, disagreed. "Especially you working in this building [the UN Secretariat], I am sure you can feel palpably how much concern the possibility of the Kosovo precedent and spreading throughout this building and throughout the membership of the United Nations," Churkin warned. "So this is our belief that, unfortunately, if things were to get out of the legal channel, and if things go in the direction of unilateral moves, that will send a shockwave to the international system and international law."

Churkin added that he felt "very optimistic" after the last day's discussions and said he was not alone in that feeling. He also said he thought that things could be worked out in a mutually acceptable manner between the two sides. But he was firm that Moscow -- which has long sought to steer the ultimate decision on Kosovo's independence toward the Security Council -- will not recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

Both China and Russia, which hold veto power on the Security Council, have said they believe negotiations over Kosovo's future should continue. Other Security Council members sharing that view include Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana.