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Serbia Boycotts UN Kosovo Envoy Ahtisaari

Serbia plans to boycott the United Nations envoy for Kosovo when he arrives in Belgrade next week to present his plan for the breakaway province's future, local media said Saturday.

Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari presented his plan to the so-called Contact Group of big powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia - behind closed doors on Friday in Vienna.

The still-secret plan, or proposal, is expected to launch Kosovo toward independence.

Nominally still a province of Serbia, but with a vastly dominant Albanian majority that wants independence quickly, Kosovo has been a UN and NATO protectorate since 1999.

Also on Friday, Serbian caretaker Premier Vojislav Kostunica said that he would not receive Ahtisaari when he arrives in Belgrade to present the plan to Serbia on February 2.

Ahtisaari was scheduled to visit Pristina later that same day.

Kostunica said that the caretaker government, which is to be replaced following the January 21 elections, was without authority to deal with big issues such as Kosovo's status and that it would have to wait for the upcoming government.

On Saturday, Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic said that no member of Kostunica's cabinet would meet Ahtisaari, whom Serbia has frequently accused of being biased in favour of the Albanians.

Staunchly pro-European and seeking close ties with the West, President Boris Tadic was "likely" to see Ahtisaari when he arrives, sources from his cabinet were quoted as saying.

Tadic, however, has little real power, his function being largely based on protocol.

Without a clear election winner, Serbia has a late-May deadline for the new government to take over, but possibly faces months of political stalemate and even new polls.

Ahtisaari, who mediated Kosovo talks between Belgrade and Pristina starting last February, has already delayed the presentation of his plan in deference to Serbia's elections, called after the country proclaimed its new constitution in November.

So far, 10 months of talks have failed to bring Belgrade and Pristina any closer. Serbs continued insisting on sovereignty over Kosovo, while Albanians reject anything less than independence.

Banking on Russia - which only said it opposed an "imposed" solution, but did not commit - to block Kosovo's independence, Kostunica is attempting to delay the Kosovo process, some analysts said.

He hopes that "Albanian frustration at the delay would lead to violence ... weakening Pristina's position," James Lyon, the International Crisis Group think-tank representative in Belgrade, said in a text he posted on the B92 internet portal.

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