US breaks with Europe by backing Kosovan independence from Serbia

Click to follow

The United States is preparing to back Kosovo's bid for full independence from Yugoslavia in a move which would lead to a serious rift with its European allies and hostility from Russia.

The United States is preparing to back Kosovo's bid for full independence from Yugoslavia in a move which would lead to a serious rift with its European allies and hostility from Russia.

A senior State Department source told The Independent yesterday that the development follows secret discussions held during the recent visit to the Balkans by Richard Holbrooke, the American ambassador to the United Nations.

The initiative comes at a critical time, with the election of Vojislav Kostunica as Yugoslav President and the first polls being held in Kosovo since last year's Nato bombing.

Until now, the Western allies, including Britain and the US, have stressed that the future of Kosovo must be decided under the terms of UN Resolution 1244, which recognises the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia".

Since the defeat of Slobodan Milosevic, the Western powers have reiterated that position in an effort to strengthen the fledgling government in Belgrade.

The State department official said that US officials had talked to the lawyers who framed Resolution 1244. He argued that the resolution did not preclude independence for Kosovo. The resolution "explicitly recognises the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, but that does not mean Kosovo cannot be independent. De facto independence is already a reality", he said.

Ibrahim Rugova - the moderate leader of Kosovo's Albanians whose LDK party appeared to be sweeping to victory in the weekend's municipal elections - is adamant that the Serbian province must be allowed to gain full independence as soon as possible. He said he was optimistic that the West would support that position.

But President Kostunica is just as forthright in declaring that Kosovo remains a part of Yugoslavia. The official Serbian news agency, Tanjug, branded the Kosovo elections as illegal.

How far the Americans are prepared to go to revisit Resolution 1244 remains uncertain, and there is speculation that they may be floating a trial balloon to test reaction in the region and among their allies.

A British official said US support for Kosovo's independence would be "not very helpful". Other Nato allies, such as Greece and Italy, favour reaching an agreement with Serbia over the province, he said.

Comments