Thursday, November 18, 2004

Annan shuns advice to speed Kosovo status talks.

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 18 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has rejected advice to more quickly decide the future status of U.N.-governed Kosovo and told the Security Council that he wants to stick by plans to consider the issue in mid-2005.

Annan's position was stated in a letter to the council's 15 members dated Wednesday and made public on Thursday.

He said Kosovo's local administration "must make substantial progress" on meeting U.N.-mandated standards on issues such as human rights in order to proceed with considering Kosovo's status.

The United Nations has governed Kosovo, a province of Serbia, since 1999, after an 11-week NATO bombing campaign to halt Serb repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority demands independence, while Belgrade insists the province of 2 million people remain a part of Serbia.

A July report by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide had recommended scrapping a 1999 policy that insisted Kosovo meet a list of U.N. standards - on law and order, security and human rights - before the question of its status is taken up.

"I would like to emphasize that all standards are important," Annan, who commissioned the report, said in the letter to the Security Council. He recommended working to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive review to be conducted in mid-2005.

Annan had asked Eide, Norway's ambassador to NATO, to study how to improve the U.N. mission in Kosovo after ethnic Albanian mobs rioted in March. The mobs set fire to Serb homes and religious sites, killing 19 and injuring nearly 1,000 civilians.

Annan said September consultations with parties including European Union leaders and NATO produced a "broad agreement on the need to focus on the economy and on security, the need to engage with Belgrade and to bring the Kosovo Serbs into the process and the importance of the standards process."

The U.N. chief outlined what he called "an integrated strategy" to move forward that has already begun to be implemented by Kosovo's U.N. governor, Soren Jessen-Petersen.

Annan said the main components of the strategy included dealing with the causes and consequences of the March violence; initiating a deeper dialogue with Belgrade; readjusting the standards policy, and granting more power to the provisional institutions of self-government while also increasing the monitoring of their performance.

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