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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Asked to Form Kosovo Consensus

BELGRADE -- Serbian leaders faced pressure to forge a common stand on Kosovo on Monday as the diplomatic ground shifted against their rejection of independence for the breakaway province.

The United States again urged Belgrade to be constructive and new pressure came from an unlikely quarter, as Russia, which has been sympathetic, warned Serbia to be flexible.

Serbia's leading parties are deeply divided over how to respond to the plan presented last Friday by United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica may have overestimated backing from Moscow. He had told Serbs that Russia had promised to block Kosovo's independence. But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov now says: "President Vladimir Putin has never said he would use Moscow's veto at the Security Council over Kosovo."

And on Monday, Serbia's Blic daily cited government sources as saying Russian officials had sent a warning to Kostunica.

"If Serbia rejects everything, Russia will not support it, on the grounds that it is not being constructive," Blic quoted the message as saying. "Russia would thus save face [with Serbs] without confronting the rest of the world," it said.

Ethnic Albanians who demand independence make up 90 percent of the population of 2 million in impoverished Kosovo, land cherished by Serbs as the cradle of their nation. It has been run by the UN since 1999 when NATO bombing led by the United States forced late strongman Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw troops accused of killing 10,000 Albanians during a counter-insurgency war with separatists.

"The United States believes that this is an excellent proposal," U.S. envoy Frank Wisner said in Kosovo on Monday.

He said he would go to Moscow this week to secure the backing of Russia, a member of the six-power Contact Group along with Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, which has collectively set policy on Kosovo since 1999.