The plan to grant Kosovo independence through the UN Security Council failed Friday in the face of Russian opposition, the U.S. and European sponsors of a resolution on the region's future said.

"We regret … that it has been impossible to secure such a resolution in the UN Security Council," said French Ambassador Jean-Marc De La Sabliere on behalf of the resolution's sponsors, the United States, Britain, Belgium, Italy and Germany. "We will therefore put on hold discussions on the resolution."

The Serbian province has been occupied by UN and NATO forces since 1999, when a 78-day NATO-led air war forced out Serbian troops who were killing and expelling the Albanian majority in a crackdown on separatists.

The resolution called for 120 days of negotiations between the Albanian majority, which wants independence for the region, and the Serb minority, which wants to remain a part of Serbia. If the talks failed, the UN would hand over administration of the province to the European Union.

Attempts to implement this plan reached a stalemate because Russia, a close Serbian ally, has refused to support any motion that could lead to Kosovo's independence. Moscow has a veto in the council, rendering the resolution impossible to pass.

Negotiationstransferred to Contact Group

La Sabliere said the sponsors will continue with negotiations through the Contact Group on Kosovo, which includes Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the United States and Russia. No country has veto rights.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad said the process in the contact group would "move forward exactly as the resolution proposes," including four months of negotiations.

La Sabliere said the sponsors continue to believe the resolution, suggested in March by Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, was the best way forward for the troubled region.

"We believe the special envoy's recommendations, which UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon fully endorsed, are fair and balanced and provide the best solution to advance stability not only in Kosovo but in the region as a whole," he said.

Fears of unilateral independence declaration

There is widespread concern in the Security Council and the region that the province's ethnic Albanian leaders could declare independence unilaterally if theinternationalbodiesdo not soon approve a path to independence.

This concern mounted Friday morning, as Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku suggested Nov. 28 as a possible date for declaring independence in the region.

Ceku said the date was just a suggestion and still needed to be discussed with Kosovo leaders.

"This was initially an idea, among other ideas, on how to get out of a situation that has been blocked in the UN Security Council," he said.

He added that he was not suggesting unilateral action, but rather a declaration of "co-ordinated independence" in unison with the U.S. and the EU.

With files from the Associated Press