PRISTINA, Kosovo (CNN) -- Kosovo will press ahead with plans for independence, a spokesman for the region's Albanian leaders said Monday as negotiators were due to confirm that talks to settle the future status of the Serbian province had failed.
Spokesman Skender Hyseni said independence for Kosovo was "not an issue of if but when," The Associated Press reported. "Kosovo will look at its own agenda, but it will certainly be much earlier than May... Kosovo is only going to follow its own roadmap."
Hyseni's comments came as negotiators of the U.N.-appointed three-party "troika" of the U.S., European Union and Russia were due to deliver a final report confirming their failure to reach an agreement after nearly two years of talks.
On Friday the troika issued a statement declaring talks had reached an impasse. "We carefully considered with the parties every reasonable option that would provide a way forward to common ground," said U.S. troika member Frank Wisner. "That common ground was not found."
Up to 3,000 Kosovans marched through Pristina, the Kosovan capital, on Monday to call for independence, AP reported. Marchers waved Albanian and U.S. flags and carried banners reading "Independence is the only option" and "Europe, show some unity."
The U.N. has administered Kosovo since NATO forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave human rights abuses in the fighting between Serbs and Albanians.
Kosovo is seeking supervised independence from Serbia, but Serbia wants the region to remain autonomous within its borders.
Serbia says the province forms part of its historical territory and has strong religious significance for its majority Orthodox Christian population. But it is equally coveted by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who are mostly Muslim and make up a 90 percent majority in the region.
The troika of mediators said it had discussed a wide range of options to resolve Kosovo's status, including full independence, supervised independence, a territorial partition, substantial autonomy and confederal arrangements. They even discussed an "agreement to disagree" solution, to no avail.
The troika's report said both parties pledged to "refrain from actions that might jeopardize the security situation in Kosovo or elsewhere and not use violence, threats or intimidation."
But the failure of the talks coupled with Albanian moves towards independence have triggered fears Serbia will take violent means to prevent the loss of Kosovo.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has told CNN that Serbia will not use force to achieve its political objectives. But an adviser to Serbia's prime minister said last week his country would defend its sovereignty "using all means" at its disposal.
"The state has no recourse other than war when someone does not respect the U.N. Security Council," Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, told state television.
Russia, a staunch ally of Serbia, has warned Kosovo against any self-proclamation of independence. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said it may "aggravate ethnic rifts" and "rekindle violence."
CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said the main threat of violence was from militias forming as both sides grew impatient with the failure of negotiations to produce a settlement.
"Nobody really feels the status quo can go on much longer," said Oakley. "The people of Kosovo are in dire straits economically and nobody is going to put money into the region until this issue is settled."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the organization would not tolerate a return to violence, and promised to "act resolutely" against anyone resorting to violent means.
NATO currently has 16,000 troops stationed in Kosovo and more ready to intervene if needed to prevent any outbreak of violence on either side.
European Union foreign ministers were meeting Monday in Brussels to discuss the status of negotiations, hoping to slow down any unilateral declaration of independence.
Oakley said EU talks would likely focus on persuading Russia to accept a settlement and then getting Moscow to put pressure on Belgrade.
International opinion on the future make-up of Kosovo is divided, with America already committed to the idea of independence. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said there is "logic" to the move.
But some European countries -- especially those with their own secessionist movements, like Spain, Cyprus, and Greece -- are more skeptical, fearing that independence could set a precedent for separatist groups elsewhere.
Russian foreign minister Lavrov warned other countries on Monday not to recognize Kosovo's independence.
"If our partners unilaterally recognize independent Kosovo, they will flagrantly breach international laws," Lavrov said while on a visit to Cyprus, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.
"The unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo and the illegal recognition of that independence will naturally have consequences." Lavrov said those moves would "trigger a chain reaction" in the Balkans and elsewhere.
In the village of Prekaz in central Kosovo, the family of rebel commander Adem Jashari visits his grave every day. The patriarch of his family, Jashari was killed in March 1998 at the start of the war.
"No one should forget the blood that was spilled here," says Adem's older brother, Refat, standing in the ruins of his brother's former house. "But people are tired of violence now, and I hope we don't return to those days again."
The house is now being turned into a monument to Kosovo's push for independence, preserved with scars of war and ammunition left behind by the Serbs. But Refat Jeshari wants no haste toward the final goal.
"As for independence, we shouldn't forget what the Americans did for us," Jeshari says. "So we should not declare it before they give us the green light to do it." E-mail to a friend
CNN's Alessio Vinci in Kosovo and Robin Oakley in London contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
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