Monday, February 07, 2005

U.N. chief in Kosovo says status talks possible in 2005

The top United Nations official in Kosovo said Monday that efforts to start talks on the province's permanent status could begin this year.

Soeren Jessen-Petersen, on a visit to Greece, said 2005 would be a very important year for the U.N-administered province in Serbia-Montenegro.

"I count on Greece to move up the Kosovo issue on the agenda of the European Union and as a (non-permanent) member of the (U.N.) Security Council," Jessen-Petersen said.

"The process leading into status talks might be launched in the second half of the year," he added.

Jessen-Petersen, who met Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, called on Kosovo's minority Serbs as well as the Serb government in Belgrade to play a more prominent role in the U.N. dialogue on the province.

"It is extremely important that the settlement of Kosovo is seen as normalizing and stabilizing the western Balkans, including Serbia and Montenegro," he said.

The province has been under U.N. control following the 1998-1999 war which left about 10,000 people dead. NATO bombed Serb forces to end Belgrade's crackdown on majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The U.N. says talks aimed at deciding Kosovo's final status can only start when Kosovo's administration fully complies with EU standards on minorities and governance.

Greece opposes any changes in Balkan nations' borders, fearing further instability.

"Our political aim for the region is to cement peace, stability and prosperity by promoting the gradual course of the countries toward the European Union," Molyviatis said.

Jessen-Petersen refused to comment on a weekend report in Belgrade that Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj could soon be charged with war crimes by the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"Nobody, nobody, but the officials of the tribunal knows whether there will be an indictment or not," he said.

The claim was made Saturday by an adviser to Serbia's president. Haradinaj, a former ethnic Albanian rebel leader, has denied the war crimes allegations but has said he is willing to cooperate with the tribunal.

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