21 August 2006

Martti Ahtisaari, UN Envoy Presents New Plan to Pristini

Pristina, 21 August (AKI) - Chief United Nations negotiator for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, will arrive in the capital of breakaway Kosovo province, Pristina, on Tuesday for a four-day visit. During his stay he will present a new plan for municipal decentralisation that aims to break the deadlock over this key issue, spokesman for Ahtisaari's office (UNOSEC), Remi Dourlot, told local media on Monday. Ahtisaari is expected to hold talks with its president, Fatmir Seidiu, prime minister, Agim Ceku, and local Serb leaders. Dourlot said that UNOSEC experts have already arrived in Pristina and are discussing with ethnic Albanian officials Ahtisaari’s latest proposals on decentralisation, municipal boundaries, their powers and their financing, although he did not reveal details of the blueprint. Seven rounds of UN-brokered talks in the Austrian capital, Vienna have failed to produce any real agreement between ethnic Albanian and Serb negotiating teams on a model for decentralisation - seen as critical to gaining Serb acceptance of greater autonomy for Kosovo, a key precondition for the return of refugees, and the safety of remaining Serbs in the province. The main sticking-point has been the number of new municipalities - Serbs insist on 12 while ethnic Albanians want just five. The two sides also disagreed over the extent of municipal powers and the degree of autonomy from central government that these should have. Serbian leaders in Belgrade and Kosovo's minority Serbs demand the right to run their own police, judiciary, education and health systems, maintaining special ties to Belgrade, whereas ethnic Albanians want to have a final say on the appointment of municipal officials.Most ethnic Albanians, who form a 1.7 million majority in the province, against a tiny minority of 100,000 remaining Serbs - want independence for Kosovo. This is opposed by Kosovan Serbs and by Belgrade - who favour some form of wide autonomy for the province. Observers are predicting that Kosovo's future status will be determined by the end of the year. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the international community has hinted it might impose a solution, possibly granting Kosovo independence.