Putin: Russia will only support Kosovo solution accepted by Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

Russia will not support any international plan to resolve Kosovo's status that is not accepted by both Serbia and the province's ethnic Albanian majority, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday.

"Only the Kosovars and Serbs can resolve this," Putin told a forum of the world's top security officials. "Let's not play God and try to resolve their problems."

Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership have failed in negotiations, however, to reach agreement on the province's future, with Serbia demanding the province remain within its territory, and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians wanting independence.

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari last week unveiled a proposal, backed by the U.S. and European Union, that envisions internationally supervised statehood for the province.

The plan — which needs U.N. Security Council approval to take effect — does not explicitly mention independence, but spells out conditions for self-rule, including a flag, anthem, army and constitution, and the right to apply for membership in international organizations. Kosovo's Serb minority would have a high degree of control over their own affairs.

Serbia has rejected the plan, while Kosovo's leaders welcomed it.

The two sides will meet Feb. 21 in a last effort to reach agreement and make changes to the proposal before it is sent to the Security Council. Ahtisaari has said, however, that he does not expect a compromise will be reached, and that a U.N.-imposed solution might be necessary.

Russia's support is important for resolving the dispute. As a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia has the power to block any U.N. proposal unfavorable to Belgrade, and Putin's blunt remarks on Saturday suggested that Moscow might do so.

"If we see that one of the parties is not happy with the solution, we will not support that decision," Putin said. "If one participant in this problem feels hurt, this will drag on for centuries."

Moscow has said any solution favoring Kosovo's independence could encourage separatist movements elsewhere in the world, including in former Soviet republics or satellites such as Georgia and Moldova.

The United States has said, however, that the Kosovo situation is unique because the province has been under U.N. rule since 1999, when Serb forces ere ejected following NATO bombing.

"I hope that Russia would embrace these aspirations for Kosovo and the Balkans," U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain said. "So far, it has not."

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said after the Russian president's speech that it was premature to speculate about whether Russia would block a U.N. resolution on Kosovo.

"We still have a long way to go because the two sides must negotiate between themselves." Peskov said, but added that granting Kosovo independence against Serbia's wishes would set "a dangerous precedent."

[Source: Herald Tribune by AP, Munich, Deu, 10Feb07]

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