Serbian leader: Independence for Kosovo ‘close’

KOSOVO’S declaration of independence is a matter of days away, the Serbian province’s prime minister Hashim Thaci said yesterday.

“It is an issue of days,” Mr Thaci told reporters in Brussels when asked whether the expected independence proclamation was days or weeks away.

However several European diplomats suggested Kosovo’s largely ethnic Albanian population would have to wait another month or so before the declaration.

“Kosovo is ready. We will proclaim independence very soon,” Mr Thaci said after meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana.

Mr Thaci said Kosovo was not planning the action unilaterally. Independence would be declared “in co-ordination with the European Union and the United States,” he stressed.

The United States and the European Union, as well as Kosovo, were keen to present a “co-ordinated declaration of independence” rather than a totally unilateral move on the part of the breakaway Serb province.

The move has the support of the EU’s 27 member states, but Belgrade, backed by Russia, is firmly opposed to giving independence to a region it regards as an historic Serbian heartland.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned European nations on Tuesday that there was a danger in delaying resolution of the issue of Kosovo’s status.

Diplomats close to Mr Thaci’s talks with EU officials said that, as things stand, they were not expecting a declaration of independence until late February or early March. “I think they [the Kosovars] are going to have to wait a little bit longer,” one said.

Several diplomats spoke of the possibility of most European leaders officially declaring their intention to recognise an independent Kosovo at an EU summit scheduled for mid-March.

The issue is complicated by Serbia’s ongoing presidential election which pits hardline nationalist Tomislav Nikolic against pro-European incumbent Boris Tadic in a decisive second-round run-off on February 3.

Mr Nikolic, who favours closer ties with Russia, won 39.99% of the vote in this month’s first-round vote compared with Mr Tadic’s 35.39%.

Mr Thaci also held talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn whose spokeswoman Krisztine Nagy said, “is in favour of a co-ordinated process”.

Russia’s new ambassador to NATO yesterday urged Serbia to stand up to Western countries that were ready to back independence for Kosovo, saying such a split would open “Pandora’s box”.

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