UN warns on Kosovo delays, Moscow sees blackmail

Kosovo's U.N. governor Joachim Ruecker warned the Security Council on Wednesday that further delaying a decision on the province's plea for independence from Serbia could fuel instability in the region.

But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused Kosovo's leaders of resorting to blackmail in threatening mass unrest in the event of more delays, and warned that fresh violence in Kosovo could derail the process rather than speed it up.

"We can only interpret this as an unacceptable blackmailing of the international community, an attempt by radicals to incite acts of violence," Churkin said concerning threats of unrest in the event of more delays.

"We are convinced that any measures to destabilize or upset the situation in the province could mean that the Security Council will have to review the situation, and this could lead to an immediate halt in the status process," he said.

Western powers had promised a decision on Kosovo's future by the end of this year, but recently postponed it until after a January 21 Serbian general election.

More than seven years after NATO bombed the region to drive out Serb forces...leaving the province under U.N. rule, the West is sympathetic to the demand of Kosovo's 90 percent majority Albanians for their own state.

But Russia says the settlement must also satisfy Serbia, which flatly rejects independence in favor of substantial autonomy, complicating efforts to reach a deal in the 15-nation council, where Moscow has veto power.

Ruecker, briefing the council on recent developments, said further delay would mean "more than just a loss of time."

Continued momentum was needed to head off uncertainty over the way forward, which was "a potential source of instability," he said. "Delay will raise tension and play into the hands of extremists on all sides. Delay will not make a solution easier - it will make it much more difficult. No one can have an interest in such an outcome."

Ruecker was backed by Deputy U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, who stressed the importance of an agreement soon.

As the status process nears an end, "both sides must be realistic about the probable outcome," Wolff said.

Sanda Raskovic Ivic, who heads Serbia's office for Kosovo, reiterated Belgrade's insistence on broad autonomy over independence but also called for an immediate resumption of the status talks in Vienna.

"It is clear that despite obvious difficulties, there is a maneuvering space for agreement and compromise," she said. "The talks should be intensive to enable us to get results soon."

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku expressed hope Kosovo would soon be granted independence.

"Any political association with Belgrade simply will not work," he said, adding that independence "will liberate all of us from uncertainty and from confusion and allow all of us to move on."

[Source: By Irwin Arieff, Reuters, UN, 14Dec06]

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