Serbia

Ahtisaari expects Kosovo independence by year-end

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By Sami Torma

HELSINKI, June 19 (Reuters) - The U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari says he believed Russia will use its veto to block the U.N. plan on Kosovo he drafted, but that Kosovo will gain independence this year in any case.

"I do not think anything could happen without Kosovo starting to implement in any case the plan I have presented," Ahtisaari told Finnish YLE television in an interview aired on Tuesday.

"This is almost a prerequisite for them to gain support, should they not get it via the U.N."

Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, said he saw the year-end an "absolute deadline" for the breakaway Serb province to become independent.

But he added: "It is starting to feel like Russia will use its veto."

This could mean a solution on Kosovo takes place outside the United Nations, but with the support of the United States and the EU, Ahtisaari said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin insists there can be no resolution of the province's status without the agreement of Serbia.

The European Union on Monday reiterated its backing for the U.N. plan for independence for Kosovo and called for increased efforts for a rapid solution via a U.N. resolution.

But the prosecutor of the U.N. war crimes court for the Balkans, Carla Del Ponte, later urged a delay in deciding the future of Kosovo, saying it would interfere with her quest to get major fugitives arrested for trial.

Ahtisaari said it was very important for the United States and the European Union to act in a unified manner to maintain their credibility in handling international conflicts.

"The EU cannot remain a prisoner of this situation," he said.

Ahtisaari said if a resolution was reached in the United Nations, it could take place in September when France is to chair the Security Council.

The former U.N. mediator did not say whether he would be willing to offer his services again should further talks on Kosovo be needed.

Instead, Ahtisaari said he was planning a trip to Turkey in the next few months, because he had been asked to form an independent "citizen activity" group to operate alongside Turkey's EU membership negotiations.

"When the EU took the position that membership talks would begin with Turkey, I was contacted," he told YLE. "I have been able to gather a very high profile group from Europe."

Ahtisaari said forming the group had led to an idea of setting up a forum called the European Council for Foreign Affairs, without giving further details.

YLE did not say when the interview had been conducted.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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