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The Financial Times - February 16, 2008 by Neil MacDonald in Pristina and Harvey Morris at the United Nations Kosovo’s parliament on Friday laid the groundwork for declaring independence, amid uncertainty about whether the United Nations mission, in place since 1999, can withdraw. The “co-ordinated declaration” expected from Pristina on Sunday is closely tied to the western-backed status plan for the disputed territory, which calls for a 120-day UN handover culminating in the opening of an international supervisory office led by the European Union. At the same time, the UN interim mission that has ruled Kosovo since 1999 was supposed to close down. But with Russia upholding Serbia’s continued sovereignty over the mostly ethnic Albanian breakaway province, the intended sequence outlined last year by Martti Ahtisaari, the UN’s envoy, has become muddied. “Ahtisaari should have been adopted by the UN Security Council,” a western diplomat in Kosovo says. “There should have been a new UN resolution – and won’t be.” As a result of the 15-member council’s failure to agree on a new resolution, the existing Resolution 1244 remains in force. EU officials say 1244, adopted in 1999 after Nato forces took over the province, provides the legal basis for the EU-led supervisory office and accompanying police and justice role – even if the UN mission also continues to exist in some marginal form. Russia insists the opposite, leaving Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, in a quandary about authorising the EU-led mission. At an emergency session called by Russia on Thursday night, Vuk Jeremic, Serbia’s foreign minister, urged the secretary-general to rule that Kosovo’s expected declaration of independence was null and void. “We shall never recognise Kosovo’s independence,” said Mr Jeremic, who was invited to address the council. “Not now. Not in a year. Not in a decade. Never. For Kosovo and Metohija shall remain a part of Serbia forever.” The EU has distanced itself from the actual declaration, but this has further thrown off the timing envisaged in the Ahtisaari plan. “What is day one of the 120 days? That is an open question,” the western diplomat in Pristina said. Mr Ban has yet to state his position, pending the declaration from Pristina and the EU’s response to that. A spokeswoman said: “Obviously, in terms of the UN’s operation in Kosovo, the secretary-general is monitoring the operation very, very closely.” “We shall see what Ban Ki-moon will do,” said Fatmir Sejdiu, Kosovo’s president, in an interview with the Financial Times. Hashim Thaci, prime minister, on Fridayannounced the creation of a government office to handle the concerns of Kosovo’s Serb minority. The parliament was expected to pass the 2008 budget and on Friday adopted the Ahtisaari principles, vital to reassure EU member states that an independent Kosovo can uphold human rights. Kosovo officials still refused to confirm Sunday publicly as the date for the declaration. Mr Sejdiu said a few “editorial issues” remained to be sorted out in the trilingual Albanian, Serbian and English text and that co-ordination between himself, Kosovo’s prime minister, the US and “key EU countries” would continue on Saturday.

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