19 October 2006

Ahtisaari Reckons With Constitution Referendum and Elections

UN Envoy: Kosovo Talks Won't Be
Delayed Beyond 2006
BRUSSELS (AP)--The U.N. envoy mediating talks on the status of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo Wednesday dismissed suggestions by European Union officials the process may continue beyond its scheduled conclusion at the end of this year.
"My plan hasn't changed," former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari said, "2006 is still my target date."
Tuesday, E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana said it was likely the process could be delayed because Serbia plans in the meantime to hold a referendum on a new constitution and to have parliamentary and presidential elections.
Many in Kosovo oppose any delay in the negotiation process, saying it could negatively impact stability in the region. Although technically still part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the U.N. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since a 1999 war.
"I am not going to speculate on any elections," said Ahtisaari, who is due to submit his recommendations on Kosovo's future to the U.N. Security Council before the end of 2006.
The talks haven't yet produced results, with Serbia rejecting calls by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority for full independence.
"I am simply concentrating on my work, (the plans) are not yet ready," he said after meeting at NATO headquarters with representatives of countries participating in the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer rejected suggestions Serbia could be inducted into the NATO's outreach Partnership for Peace - a program seen as a stepping stone toward full membership in the alliance - even if it doesn't arrest top U.N. war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic.
Belgrade has sought to move closer to NATO since the 2000 ouster of late ex-President Slobodan Milosevic, whose warmongering had pushed Serbia into international isolation. But this week, the chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal accused Belgrade of making no effort to catch Mladic, whom many nationalists in Serbia regard as a hero.
"Serbia will have to decide," de Hoop Scheffer told journalists at a joint news conference with Ahtisaari.
He noted he "would very much appreciate" if Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica publicly called for Mladic and his helpers to be arrested.
"That is the only recipe for lasting security in the region," de Hoop Scheffer said.
October 18, 2006 08:14 ET (12:14 GMT)