EU to delay Kosovo status until early spring: Rehn

Other News Materials 13 December 2007 14:02 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - A solution to Kosovo's final status will be delayed until early spring, the European Union's enlargement chief was quoted as saying on Thursday, a day after Serbia set a crucial presidential election for January 20.

The comment by European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, in charge of shepherding Western Balkans countries towards eventual EU membership, was the clearest indication so far that the EU will delay any decision until after the Serbian vote.

"Kosovo's final solution will be postponed to early spring," Rehn told the Finnish daily Uutispaiva Demari.

"A solution must be found. The current situation is not sustainable," Rehn added.

Spring begins on March 21 and EU foreign ministers are due to hold a key meeting in Slovenia on March 28-29.

Kosovo's overwhelming Albanian majority wants independence but Belgrade has insisted the breakaway province, under U.N. administration since a 1999 NATO air war to drive out Serbian forces, may only have broad autonomy within Serbia.

The Serbian election will determine whether pro-European liberal reformer Boris Tadic is re-elected or power shifts to the hardline nationalist Radical party, whose leader is on trial at the Hague U.N. war crimes tribunal.

The election is expected to go to a run-off two weeks later.

Rehn gave no reason for the apparent delay in the West's initial timetable for leading Kosovo to supervised independence after international mediation efforts ended in failure on December 10.

But EU diplomats said the 27-nation bloc's foreign ministers agreed informally this week that if the date of the Serbian election was officially confirmed, they would avoid early action that could fuel a nationalist backlash.

Kosovo Albanian leaders said this week they would not declare independence unilaterally but would coordinate their moves with Western countries including the United States and the

Diplomats said the EU was moving towards an agreement early next year to deploy about 1,600 police and justice officials to supervise the rule of law in Kosovo but several EU states still had misgivings about recognizing independence without a U.N. Security Council resolution.