Kosovo May Lose Help From OSCE

VIENNA -- Kosovo Serbs could suffer if Europe's biggest democracy watchdog had to quit the region, a senior European Union official said on Thursday, alluding to possible fallout over an independence bid by Kosovo Albanians.

Diplomats said Serbia and Russia have signaled that they will break a 56-nation consensus in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for a continued OSCE mission in Kosovo if the Serbian province's majority Albanians declare independence and this garners recognition from Western states.

OSCE missions normally get extended on an annual basis by consensus. But in December OSCE foreign ministers decided under apparent Russian and Serbian pressure to put the Kosovo mission under a month-by-month renewal regime, diplomats said.

"In Kosovo, all communities including the Serb minority have a vital interest in the OSCE's work on protection and on confidence- and institution-building," EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a speech to the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna.