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UN chief signals shift on Kosovo

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To be sure, Serbs strongly contest Kosovo. On Friday, a parliament of Kosovo Serbs will meet, backed directly by Belgrade. The body, considered illegal by Western officials, will coordinate Serb agencies, police, security, and even Ministry of Defense offices. It remains an open question whether the European Union can enter the largest enclave, Mitrovica.

"What will not be helpful is to push this problem off," says a senior Western diplomat affiliated with an international agency. "We don't want Kosovo as an international ward for years to come…. Drift contributes not just to instability in Kosovo. It contributes to Serb instability, [which is] the problem in the region."

Kosovo is a "second tier" priority for the United States and the West at a time of an Iran-Israel crisis, the Iraq war, and Afghanistan. Yet the dispute pits key principles in international affairs – state sovereignty against the relatively new concept of self-determination for the Kosovars. It is seen as a test of whether the Balkans can integrate into Europe – or are destined to devolve into nationalistic groups.

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