13 February 2008 – Kosovo will be technically ready to split from Serbia from Friday, but is awaiting a green light from Washington and Brussels for the historic move, political leaders said Wednesday.Kosovo’s parliament is to meet Friday to discuss several draft laws envisaged in a plan devised by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, paving the way for a declaration of independence from Serbia, expected as early as Sunday.

As plans for the independence declaration by the Albanian-majority province of Serbia were being finalised, diplomats said the UN Security Council would meet about the issue Thursday at the request of Serbia and Moscow.

Speaker Jakup Krasniqi said Friday’s Kosovo parliament session would open the way for a declaration, after which the assembly would begin “to examine (state) symbols, the constitution and laws.”

But the independence date would only “be announced when it is coordinated with the United States and the EU,” said Sabri Hamiti, a senior official of the Democratic League of Kosovo party, which forms the governing coalition.

“This date must be announced in a coordinated way,” added Hamiti.

The United States and many EU member countries — including Britain, France, Germany and Italy — have expressed their intention to quickly recognise Kosovo’s independence.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington would offer economic and other aid to Serbia in the upcoming months because it was “going to be an extraordinarily difficult period of time for the Serbian people.

“We want a Serbia that is looking to its future and that future is in Europe,” Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“And what the US is going to do is offering a hand of friendship, saying that the status of Kosovo and its resolution will allow Serbia to look forward, and to move on then with what it needs to do.”

In Brussels, a senior EU official said the European Union was not expecting any outbreaks of violence or the partition of Kosovo when it proclaims independence, as some fear.

“We are confident in particular, on the basis of our assessment of the situation in and around Kosovo and also on contacts we have received, that violence is not likely to happen,” said the official.

But preparations are being made in case of any unrest on the ground in Kosovo.

Near the provincial capital Pristina, a heavily armed squad of elite police staged exercises in which they used riot gear, batons and tear gas in front of local media.

Ahead of the expected declaration, NATO has bolstered its troop numbers in the Serb-populated north, where the United Nations has also increased the international police presence.

Some observers in the province are worried an independence declaration could result in the partition of Serb-populated northern Kosovo, risking the ire of local Albanians who want the territory to remain intact.

The UN Security Council was to meet Thursday behind closed doors at the request of Serbia and Russia, the council’s president Panama’s UN Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias said Wednesday.

But diplomats said the meeting was unlikely change positions. “I cannot see any resolution or any outcome out of this meeting,” said Libya’s UN Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi.

In Belgrade, media have speculated Serbia would recall ambassadors and cut off diplomatic relations with various countries that recognise Kosovo’s independence.

The Serbian government has only said it will “annul” the proclamation, and has threatened to take legal action against countries that recognise Kosovo.

But its traditional ally Moscow was not planning any punitive measures in response to the move, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“Russia does not have among its political instruments any measures for punishing anyone” but was convinced unilateral independence “would be a mistake,” Lavrov said in Slovenia after meeting with senior EU officials.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since mid-1999, after a NATO air assault drove out Serbian forces waging a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian guerillas and their civilian supporters.

Source: France 24/AFP