Thursday, April 14, 2005

Austria offers Vienna as venue for possible Serbia-Kosovo talks

(AP) - Austria's foreign minister said Thursday that her country was prepared to host a meeting between the leaders from Serbia and Kosovo if the two former foes choose to do so.

Ursula Plassnik, who is on a two-day regional tour, arrived in Kosovo as international efforts intensify to shape the province's future status.

"Austria has the advantage of being a credible, a good partner for discussions, and Vienna and other places in Austria are, of course, good venues for any dialogue, for any contact," Plassnik said. "We stand ready; we are prepared."

Her visit to Kosovo comes a day after envoys from the United States, the European Union, Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Germany laid out three key guidelines on resolving the province's disputed status.

The envoys said the province could not return to its pre-1999 status, when it was under direct Serb rule. They ruled out the province being partitioned along ethnic Albanian and Serbian lines, and also ruled out the creation of any new union between predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo and other countries in the region, such as Albania.

The guidelines leave several options open, including independence or a loose union with Serbia.

The diplomats also urged the restart of the dialogue between ethnic Albanians and Serbs as a first step in the attempts to bridge the great divide between the two sides on Kosovo's future status.

Austria was the venue of the first official meeting between the sides two years ago.

Plassnik visited Belgrade on Wednesday as part of her tour in the region, ahead of Austria taking over the rotating EU chairmanship in 2006.

Kosovo, formally a province of the Serbia-Montenegro union that replaced the disintegrated Yugoslavia, is being run by a U.N. mission.

Ethnic Albanians are demanding an independent state, and the Serbs insist it should remain within their borders.

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