VIENNA -- A year of contentious talks on the future status of Kosovo ended yesterday in a bitter deadlock over a United Nations plan that would set the disputed Serbian province on the road to independence.
Serbia's nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, warned of "the most dangerous precedent in the history of the UN" if the Security Council -- which will have the final say -- approves the plan.
Kostunica said the blueprint, which would grant Kosovo supervised statehood and elements of independence including its own army, flag, anthem, and constitution, could encourage other independence-minded regions around the world to break away. President Boris Tadic of Serbia said he found the idea of parting with the province "unbearable."
Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO air strikes on Belgrade ended a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in the southern province.
The UN plan is an attempt to resolve the final major dispute remaining after Yugoslavia's bloody 1990s breakup.
Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sejdiu, made it clear that his ethnic Albanian majority sees eventual independence as the only acceptable outcome.
"Independence is the alpha and omega -- the beginning and end of our position," Sejdiu said, adding that ethnic Albanians "look forward to one day joining the family of free nations."
UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari conceded that last-ditch efforts to get the rival sides to agree on his proposal fell apart after they failed to reach any common ground.
"No amount of additional negotiations will change that," an exasperated Ahtisaari told reporters, adding: "It is my firm conclusion that the potential of negotiations is exhausted."
The former Finnish president said he would deliver the package to the Security Council by the end of the month.
An agreement was not required for the plan to go up for a Security Council vote, but it would have helped prevent a possible diplomatic showdown there: Although the United States and the European Union support the plan, it has drawn criticism from Russia, an ally of Serbia that wields veto power at the United Nations.
Ultranationalists in Serbia have threatened to stage an uprising if Kosovo is granted independence, but Tadic made clear yesterday that his government "has refrained so far, and will refrain in the future, from the use of force."
Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku played down disappointment among some ethnic Albanians that the plan would not provide full and immediate statehood.
"This proposal for sure will give Kosovo independence," he said, urging a speedy Security Council resolution abolishing Serbia's sovereignty over the province.
Sejdiu, however, acknowledged that Kosovo's leaders made "very painful compromises" by agreeing to give the dwindling Serbian minority broad rights in running their daily affairs.