U.N. Envoy Recommends Independence for Kosovo

The U.N. special envoy for Kosovo has recommended internationally supervised independence for Serbia's breakaway province, a Western official told the Associated Press Thursday.

Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish President who mediated yearlong talks between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, said in a report sent to the United Nations: "Upon careful consideration of Kosovo's recent history, the realities of Kosovo today and taking into account negotiations with the parties, I have come to the conclusion that the only viable option for Kosovo is independence to be supervised for an initial period by the international community."

It is the first time that Ahtisaari has used the word independence in public statements on Kosovo's future, after having previously abstained from using it to avoid angering Serbia.

Ahtisaari said in the report that independence was "the only viable option" for the province of 2 million, which has been run as a U.N. protectorate since mid-1999, according to the Western official who has been shown a copy of the report and demanded anonymity to discuss the confidential part of it.

In the 3 1/2 page part of the report — serving as a "cover letter" to the plan and which the parties have not seen, but which was sent to U.N. headquarters in New York — Ahtisaari said his plan provided "the foundation for future independent Kosovo that is viable, sustainable and stable and in which all communities and their members can live a peaceful and dignified existence," said the official.

This report will be provided to the members of the Security Council next week, the official said.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. The U.N. plan, drafted by Ahtisaari, is an attempt to resolve the final major dispute remaining after Yugoslavia's bloody 1990s breakup.

Ahtisaari handed over his proposal to ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders in February, but as such it made no mention of the word independence.

The plan instead described provisions for Kosovo's own constitution, flag, anthem and army and broad rights to minority Serbs to run their daily affairs, setting the stage for Kosovo's internationally supervised statehood.

However, Ahtisaari said he would give his own definition when he presented his plan to the Security Council possibly next month.

Ethnic Albanian leaders have supported the plan, while Serbia's officials, opposed to the province's secession, have rejected it, saying it grants Kosovo virtual independence.

Ahtisaari's plan was delivered earlier this month to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is expected to pass it on to the Security Council, which will have the final say.

Ahtisaari also said "reintegration into Serbia is not a viable option" and that the "continued international administration was not sustainable."

The council is split on the issue, however, with Russia supporting Serbia while the United States and the European Union back the U.N. plan.

President Vladimir Putin and other officials have said that granting Kosovo statehood could set a precedent for separatist regions in former Soviet republics, such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke away from control of the central government in Georgia in wars in the early 1990s.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, warned on Wednesday that Moscow would oppose the plan for Kosovo if the document ignores Serbia's interests, in a move appearing to signal that Russia would use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council if the measure comes to a vote in its present form.

"Kosovo is a unique case that demands a unique solution," Ahtisaari wrote, according to the Western official. "It does not create a precedent for other unresolved conflicts."