Kosovo was widely expected to take its first tentative step toward statehood Friday with the unveiling of a UN proposal for the future of the bitterly contested province.
Western diplomats familiar with the details of UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan said it would not explicitly mention independence but would lay the groundwork for conditional, internationally supervised statehood. The blueprint still needs approval from the UN Security Council.
"Throughout the text, Ahtisaari has pointedly refrained from using the 'independence' word, but the proposals in effect describe a status outcome that might be summarized as independence subject to international supervision," one Western official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO airstrikes stopped Serbia's crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels. Ethnic Albanians, who account for 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, have rejected Serbia's offer of broad autonomy within Serbian borders and demand outright independence.