Monday, April 11, 2005

International envoys to discuss Kosovo with Belgrade leaders

A group of international envoys are to discuss the situation in Kosovo with top Belgrade leaders Monday, ahead of planned talks on the U.N.-run province's future later this year.

Representatives of the United States, the European Union, Russia, Germany, France, Italy and Britain will hold a joint meeting with top officials from Serbia-Montenegro, including the presidents and prime ministers of the country's two republics and the federal leaders.

After Belgrade, the international envoys from the so-called Contact Group will travel to Kosovo for talks with the province's United Nations administrator and the local ethnic Albanian and Serb leaders.

Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, or what used to be Yugoslavia. But the province has been a U.N. and NATO protectorate since 1999, when NATO launched an air war against Serbia to halt former president Slobodan Milosevic's brutal crackdown against Kosovo's separatist ethnic Albanian rebels.

The 1998-99 war in Kosovo claimed about 10,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians.

Talks on Kosovo's final status are expected to start later this year. Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians want Kosovo to gain independence, while Serbia insists the province should have full autonomy but not territorial independence.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said last week that the Monday meeting with the international envoys will focus on the level of democratic, human rights and minority standards in Kosovo.

The Serb leaders are likely to complain about the position of the dwindling Serb minority, who live in isolated enclaves under threat of ethnically motivated attacks.

Only hours before the Belgrade meeting, dozens of Kosovo Serbs whose family members have been missing since the 1998-99 war staged a protest outside the Serbian government building in downtown Belgrade.

"We believe that the issue of the missing should be a priority issue that should be solved before all other issues," Verica Tomovic, a protest leader, said.

There are about 3,000 people still missing from the Kosovo conflict. Officials from Belgrade and Pristina recently met to try to resolve their fate.

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