The UN Security Council’s 15 ambassadors began a fact-finding mission in Serbia on Thursday to try to decide on a future for the breakaway province of Kosovo.
In talks with Serbian leaders, they heard their proposition for controlled autonomy instead of independence as request by the province’s ethnic Albanian majority.
Belgrade has also rejected a plan for independence under EU supervision proposed by the UN which has administered the province since the end of the war in 1999.
Along the border between Serbia and Kosovo, thousands of Serbs displaced since the conflict have gathered under makeshift tents in a bid to send a message to the visiting delegation.
“Today, the conditions aren’t right for us to go back,” said one refugee. “If they were, we would return. I don’t want to live in Serbia. My home is over there, in Kosovo. I was born there and I want to be free to go back and live my life there.”
Many Serbs remaining in Kosovo live in isolated enclaves under NATO protection.
The mission will take the UN ambassadors to both Kosovo Albanian communities and Serb enclaves.
There will also be talks with leaders from both sides, including the province’s president Fatmir Sejdiu who says they want to inform the Security Council about Kosovo’s needs. He hopes a new resolution will be drawn up as soon as possible.
Veto-wielding Russia which backs Serbia has threatened to block a Security Council vote on granting Kosovo independence. But some analysts don’t believe that will stop its Albanian majority from declaring independence, in a move which could destabilize the whole region once again.