Friday, February 04, 2005

Kosovo, Serbia to resume talks on fate of missing

Talks between the Kosovo government and Serbia on the fate of some 3,000 people listed as missing from the 1998-1999 conflict will resume later this month, officials said Friday.

UN mission chief Soren Jessen-Petersen, after meeting Kosovo's ethnic Albanian prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, said the meeting would take place "in the second half of February and it will be held in Belgrade".

The proposed talks will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides, divided over the Kosovo leadership's claims for independence from Serbia, since an outbreak of anti-Serb violence in the province in March last year.

"The issue of the missing persons is a humanitarian one which requires engagement," said Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN mission that has administered Kosovo since the end of the war between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.

Haradinaj confirmed "the readiness of the Kosovo government to give the necessary support for the resumption of dialogue, in this case the working group for missing".

The top Serbian official in charge of Kosovo issues, Nebojsa Covic, proposed a resumption of dialogue last week when he urged the two sides to "overcome the stalemate".

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which will chair this month's meeting, has already expressed its readiness to take a lead role in facilitating the dialogue.

Of 3,192 people still listed as missing from the war, 2,460 are from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, 529 are Serbs and 203 are from other ethnic backgrounds.

Top Serbian and Kosovo politicians held their first face-to-face talks since the war in Vienna in October 2003, agreeing to launch an ongoing dialogue on matters of mutual concern such as energy, communications and the return of refugees.

But the process was badly undermined after violent anti-Serb riots erupted in the province in March, leaving 19 dead and some 900 injured. Thousands of Serbs were forced to flee their homes, in addition to the more than 200,000 who have left since the UN arrived in Kosovo in 1999.

The southern Serbian province became a UN protectorate after a NATO bombing campaign forced forces under then-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is now on trial for war crmies, to end their crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership wants full independence but talks on final status are not expected to start until later this year under UN auspices

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