Source AP ©

Europe must lead Kosovo to independence or face renewed conflict

If the European Union doesn’t support independence for Kosovo there will be risk plunging the region into violence, an international think tank said Tuesday.

New talks between ethnic Albanians and Serbia are likely to fail, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said in a report, adding that the EU's failure to form a common position on Kosovo's independence would have "very disturbing consequences for Europe."

"If it is incapable once again, it would almost certainly lead to bloodshed and renewed regional chaos that would blow back into Central and Western Europe in the form of refugees and stronger organized crime networks," said Sabine Freizer of ICG.

Kosovo has been under United Nations and NATO control since 1999 after NATO's 78-day air war against Yugoslavia, waged to stop a crackdown on the province's separatist ethnic Albanians.

The report, titled "Breaking the Kosovo Stalemate: Europe's Responsibility," called upon the bloc to coordinate a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders if talks between the two sides, slated to end by Dec. 10, do not result in an agreement.

However, it urged Western diplomats to "restrain Kosovo Albanians from unilateral actions," fearing an unsupervised declaration of independence could prompt leaders in Kosovo's Serb-dominated north to respond with a separatist move of their own.

Envoys from United States, the European Union and Russia launched a 120-day effort to end the impasse over Kosovo after Russia's threat to block in the U.N. Security Council a Western-backed plan to grant the province internationally supervised independence.

The plan, drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, would give broad rights to the Serb minority in Kosovo and proposes that the province separate from Serbia after a period of international supervision under EU leadership.

The 37-page report of the International Crisis Group urged the EU and U.S. to enforce the Ahtisaari plan, despite Russia's opposition to Kosovo's independence.

Ethnic Albanian leaders and Serbian officials are to hold the next round of talks with international envoys Aug. 30 in Vienna, Austria. Both sides have expressed doubt that an agreement can be reached.

Kosovo's leaders insist on independence from Serbia following the 1998-99 conflict that left 10,000 dead in the face of an onslaught from Serbian forces. Serbia considers the territory an integral part of the country.

"If Kosovo explodes because the independence issue is mishandled, the regional risks would include that eight years worth of international resources and prestige dedicated to managing the crisis would be lost," the report said.

"The genie of ethnic conflict would be let loose again."

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