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U.N. chief warns Kosovo progress at ‘serious risk’

The political impasse over Kosovo's future cannot last much longer without "putting at serious risk" all the United Nations has achieved there, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The political impasse over Kosovo's future cannot last much longer without "putting at serious risk" all the United Nations has achieved there, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cautioned Security Council members Monday.

Ban's quarterly report to the council painted a tense portrait of daily life in Kosovo. A 1999 U.N. resolution provided that Kosovo, a province of Serbia with a population that is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, should be administered by the U.N. and NATO troops.

"Expectations in Kosovo remain high that a solution to Kosovo's future status must be found rapidly. As such, the status quo is not likely to be sustainable," Ban said. "Should the impasse continue, events on the ground could take on a momentum of their own, putting at serious risk the achievements and legacy of the United Nations in Kosovo."

In his report about Kosovo between Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, Ban said the simmering ethnic conflicts could spill over into the region.

"Uncertainty and a loss of forward dynamic in the future status process could create a risk of instability, both in Kosovo and in the wider region, as well as a potential risk to the safety of U.N. staff," he reported.

Although Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, the U.N. and NATO took over when the Western military alliance ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Ban says elections were encouraging
For two years, U.S., EU and Russian mediators tried to ease relations between Serbian authorities and Kosovo on the province's status. A four-month extension of the talks ended last month without agreement.

Still Ban saw some reasons for encouragement. He said Kosovo's parliamentary elections last month "were conducted in a free and fair manner and in accordance with international standards."

But he said he regretted that Kosovo Serbs do not feel represented and "instead continue to depend on parallel structures for the provision of basic services, which are supported by the authorities in Belgrade."

Ban suggested that Kosovo's future may be decided in Europe rather than at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The European Union's growing institutional commitment to Kosovo is important, as is its continuing provision of a European perspective to Kosovo," said Ban.

Stalemate within Security Council
Earlier this month, hopes dimmed for an agreement from Security Council over Kosovo's future, with Western diplomats saying negotiations were deadlocked and talks were most likely to continue in European capitals.

The council's 15 members had met behind closed doors to hear from the Serbian prime minister, who restated that Kosovo should remain part of its territory, and from the president of Kosovo, who laid out the Kosovars' demands for quickly gaining independence — a move that would be backed by the United States and key European nations.

Russia has called for further U.N.-sponsored negotiations. If Russia again blocks action in the Security Council, the Kosovo issue will move to the EU, probably early next year, which could push for internationally supervised statehood for Kosovo under a plan drawn up by a U.N. envoy this year.