His blueprint has already provoked anger in Serbia, where Vjislav Kostunica, the outgoing prime minister, has refused to meet with him on Friday.

Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who staunchly opposes Kosovo's independence, was angered by Ahtisaari's decision to present the plan before a new Serbian government is formed following elections on January 21.

UN presence

Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and other minorities by more than nine-to-one in Kosovo, which has been under a UN administration called UNMIK for almost eight years.

UNMIK took over after a 78-day Nato bombing campaign in 1999 halted a brutal crackdown by forces loyal to then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic against Albanian civilians in a fight against separatist guerillas.

Kosovo has been under
UN administration since 1999
Kosovo authorities have increased ahead of Ahtisaari's visit amid fears about the reactions of the rival camps to his plan.

The commander of Kosovo's 17,000-strong Nato forces, General Roland Kather, said this week his troops were ready to deal with any possible outbreaks of unrest.

"We will remain very vigilant to monitor [the] situation very carefully and send the message: 'Don't even try! We are there'," he said.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian prime minister, Agim Ceku, has for his part appealed to his people to ignore extremists and refrain from any violence.

"I call upon you to keep united and not become a victim of calls by irresponsible individuals," said Ceku.

Albanian hope

Ahtisaari has reportedly come up with a balanced plan which proposes a transition period that focuses on Serb rights and leads to conditional independence.

But, according to observers, Ahtisaari will avoid the use of the word "independence" in his proposal in order to preserve the chances of new negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.

However many ethnic Albanians are eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the Ahtisaari’s plan.
 

A Serb couple in Belgrade walk past a slogan
reading "We do not give up Kosovo" [AFP]

"Frankly speaking, we have been independent since Nato expelled  the Serbian military and police in 1999," Ardita Musliu, a 24-year-old from Pristina said.I don't even expect in the worst dreams that Kosovo could return under Serbia's regime."

"Of course, it doesn't mean the proposal is not important. On the contrary, we have to be assured officially by the international community that we have nothing to do with Serbia from now on."

"The times when Serbia ruled Kosovo are over," says Fehim Aliu, a 33-year-old taxi driver.

"Independence is the only way to make moves forward to a prosperous future."