Kosovo will set to declare independence from Serbia next week, the Serbian government claimed today, stoking fears of renewed instability in the region.
The Serbian minister for Kosovo said his government has information that the province will declare independence on February 17.
Slobodan Samardzic said in a statement that "the government of Serbia is receiving relevant information" that Kosovo's government will "illegally declare the unilateral independence of Kosovo on Sunday February 17".
The story continues.
Kosovo has been under UN administration since Nato expelled Serbian forces with a bombing campaign in 1999. Ethnic Albanians, who form 90% of the province's population of 1.9 million, want independence.
Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, said about 100 countries were ready to recognise the province's independence as soon as it is declared. "We will have a powerful and massive recognition," he told a news conference.
Thaci was speaking after his weekly meeting with Joachim Ruecker, head of the UN's Kosovo mission. Thaci did not name any countries or specify when he would declare independence.
Some European diplomats fear an independent Kosovo would mean a return to instability in the Balkans.
Serbia has warned the west of serious consequences to secession, suggesting that Kosovo could be partitioned, as Serbs in the north of the province align themselves with Bosnian Serbs seeking independence, creating a Serbian republic, or "Republika Srpska", in Bosnia.
The Serbian government has ruled out the threat of military action against Kosovo, but has warned of destabilisation, as "volunteers" - a euphemism for paramilitaries - from Serbia proper would go to "help" the Kosovo Serbs.
I doubt this will mean a return to open war in the Balkans, but anyone who knows the history of the Bosnian Serb and Croat Serb republics will find that last paragraph particularly chilling.