Kosovo talks are deadlocked
( AP ) - Talks on the future of Kosovo are deadlocked, officials said Tuesday, and a senior Serbian official warned that Belgrade would impose an economic and travel blockade if the breakaway province declares independence.
Skender Hyseni, a spokesman for Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership, told reporters that Serbia - which insists Kosovo remain part of its territory - "continues to offer a recipe for frozen conflicts and half-solutions which don't take us anywhere."
"I am convinced that nothing spectacular will happen. ... Belgrade refuses to approach Kosovo as a de facto independent country," Hyseni said as internationally mediated talks - the final session before a Dec. 10 U.N. deadline - stumbled into their second day with no breakthrough in sight.
Serbian President Boris Tadic insisted there was room to compromise and offered Kosovo self-governance, which the Albanian side rejected.
Meanwhile, in Belgrade, a ranking Serbian official warned of consequences if Kosovo declares statehood unilaterally at some point after the deadline for international envoys to report back to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Serbia would impose a "complete economic and travel blockade" of Kosovo, including cutting off electricity supplies to the province and banning ethnic Albanians and their goods from crossing the borders, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the government's planned response.
In Baden, Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said Serbia would respond "like any country in Europe would react if its borders would be in danger."
Although Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, the southern province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when the Western military alliance launched an air war that ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Critics, including Russia - an ally of Serbia that insists the U.N. Security Council have the final say on its future - contend a unilateral declaration of independence would plunge the Balkans back into turmoil and set a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements worldwide.
Hashim Thaci, a former rebel leader who is Kosovo's incoming new prime minister, conceded that the chances of forging a compromise were "very difficult," but he denied that the region would plunge back into conflict if the province declares independence.
"No more war, no more killing, no more violence in the region - that is our commitment," Thaci said Tuesday.
This week's session in the Austrian spa town of Baden is seen as a last-ditch attempt to reach a negotiated settlement.
But Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority has not budged on its quest for full independence from Serbia, and Serbian leaders have refused to back down from their insistence that the southern province remain part of Serbia.
The rival sides' entrenched positions - and a bleak assessment from the chief Western envoy overseeing the talks - raised the likelihood that Kosovo will declare independence, perhaps early in 2008.
"Kosovo will be a state," Thaci declared Tuesday.
Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, Russia's representative to the mediating "troika" that also includes envoys from the U.S. and the European Union, told reporters that Moscow would insist that talks continue after Dec. 10.
The closed-door talks in Baden close out a bitter series of meetings between the rival sides since the collapse earlier this year of a blueprint for eventual independence drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
Ahtisaari's plan called for internationally supervised statehood for Kosovo. But Moscow threatened to veto the proposal at the Security Council, prompting the EU, U.S. and Russia to mount another attempt at a negotiated settlement.