By Andrew Rettman and Ekrem Krasniqi
EUOBSERVER / BREMEN - A small group of EU states has splintered from the EU and US position that the UN should swiftly give "supervised independence" to Kosovo.
Slovakia, Romania and Greece raised objections to the so-called Ahtisaari plan for Kosovo independence at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Bremen, Germany at the weekend, with diplomatic sources also saying that Spain and Italy harbour reservations about the Kosovo blueprint.
"I have underlined - as has been already expressed by the Slovak parliament - that in further negotiations we have to take into consideration the legitimate interests of both parties, Belgrade and Pristina," Slovak foreign minister Jan Kubis told EUobserver on Saturday (31 March).
"When we talk about splitting countries up, the map of Europe could change every year," Spanish foreign minister Alberto Navarro said, AFP reports. Slovakia and Italy are members of the UN's 15-strong security council group that will decide Kosovo's fate.
The German EU presidency played down the split, which concerns EU states lying close to Serbia or with separatists of their own, as in Spain. "I know there are differences between member states," German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. "I don't conclude that support for the Ahtisaari plan is falling away."
Commenting on the situation, a spokesman for Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku said "If the EU can't agree on a common position on Kosovo, we are concerned as to the state of EU [foreign policy]. Where is the added value of Europe? The time for action is now."
UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari last Monday recommended the UN should give Kosovo the right to a flag, an army and a constitution as well as the freedom to apply for membership of international institutions like the UN and EU, amid a string of safeguards for ethnic Serbs living in the region.
An EU "special representative" would retain veto powers over certain Pristina government decisions, with 13,000 NATO troops and up to 1,500 EU police and judicial officers to help keep the peace in a scheme set to cost the international community €1.5 billion between 2008 and 2010.
The EU and US have officially backed Mr Ahtisaari's plan, with US diplomat Nicholas Burns calling for a UN security council resolution by late May. But Serbia and Russia have rejected the idea, with EU top diplomat Javier Solana adding that China may also have "difficulties" when it comes to the UN vote.
The EU splinter group's position appears to have points in common with the Serbian and Russian line, that any Kosovo solution must be a negotiated one with both Belgrade and Pristina's approval.
Russia has called for a UN fact-finding mission composed of the 15 UN security council ambassadors or their "number twos or threes" to visit Kosovo to see if ethnic Serb rights are being upheld in line with previous UN resolutions, such as the right of return for Serb refugees who fled during conflicts in the late 1990s.
About 1.8 million ethnic Albanians and over 100,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo, with the biggest Serb community found in the northern Mitrovica region and the rest living in isolated pockets, such as the small community centred around the 16th century Serb orthodox Gracanica monastery, near Pristina.
Level of mistrust is 'huge'
"I have been to some of these places," Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told EUobserver on Friday. "There are about 60 people living [in Gracanica] and Swedish [NATO] soldiers are taking them to the local market, every day, with armoured personnel carriers...The level of mutual mistrust is huge."
"What is particularly dangerous is to have a superficial solution, that could see the real conflict boiling underneath and that could explode again at some point," he added, saying that Moscow sees the Ahtisaari plan as a "basis for further negotiations, a bad basis" but not as the basis of a new UN resolution.
The Russian diplomat suggested the EU and US are moving too fast in a strategy that risks "serious destabilisation" of the Western Balkans. "Everybody agrees the status quo cannot last forever. But look at Northern Ireland, how long it took Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to sit at the same table - 30 years, and they speak the same language."
Mr Chizhov also said that Serbia may accept limited autonomy for Kosovo that would give it the right to join some international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, but not to have a seat at the UN or its own army.
"I would prefer Kosovo to serve as a positive precedent, should a solution be found of a tense autonomy, something short of independence, a confederation or whatever," he said. "[The EU] should be careful not to rock the boat so much that it turns upside down."