By Branislav Krstic and Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, May 20 (Reuters) - Kosovo's U.N. governor will tell the U.N. Security Council next week the disputed province has made major progress on security and minority rights, in a report that could mark the beginning of the end of the province's uncertain status.
In the report, seen by Reuters ahead of its presentation in New York on May 27, Kosovo's U.N. governor Soren Jessen-Petersen, a Danish diplomat, details "significant progress" over the past three months on all eight "benchmarks".
These are democracy standards set by the West as a condition for opening talks on whether the protectorate ultimately becomes independent, as its 90 percent Albanian majority demands, or remains nominally part of Serbia, as Belgrade insists.
The United States and European Union want the talks to start in the autumn, to head off any risk of fresh violence from Albanians impatient to close the final chapter in the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia which led to war in Kosovo in 1998-99.
If Jessen-Petersen's report had been negative, Kosovo's leaders would have been told they had not made enough progress and the process would have been put on hold for another three months.
"A significant proportion of these Priority Standards Goals and actions have been achieved or, if both effort and pace of delivery are maintained, are on track for achievement during 2005," he writes in the report to be made public on Tuesday.
"The successes ... are creating a new framework of confidence in Kosovo's ability to build and sustain institutions that work for, and protect and promote the rights of all people," Jessen-Petersen adds.
He cites improved freedom of movement for minorities, low levels of inter-ethnic crime and a "deepening maturity" shown by Kosovo's Albanian dominated interim institutions.
If the Security Council endorses his report, Secretary-General Kofi Annan will appoint a special envoy in June or July to make a comprehensive review of Kosovo's progress since the "standards before status" policy was unveiled in 2003.
Serbia's traditional ally Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, wants the review delayed. But Western diplomats say Moscow's opposition can be overcome.
The United States signalled its decision to resolve the issue this year, in a statement on Wednesday by the U.S. State Department's Nicholas Burns to the House Committee on International Affairs.
"The determination to go ahead is much greater than the Russian determination to delay it," said one senior diplomat.
Kai Eide, Norway's ambassador to NATO, is tipped to conduct the review. If positive, diplomats say Annan will select another envoy in September to mediate between Belgrade and Pristina, with the aim of reaching a status solution by early 2006.
Serbs believe the mountain-ringed province of two million people is the sacred cradle of their nation. The U.N. seized it in 1999 after 78 days of NATO bombing expelled Serb forces accused of atrocities against civilians while they fought to smother an Albanian guerrilla insurgency.
After five years of political drift, two days of Albanian riots against Serbs and other ethnic minorities in March last year killed 19 people and sent 4,000 fleeing.
Kosovo Albanians are angry the years of U.N. stewardship failed to rebuild the economy or dent a jobless rate of over 60 percent. Eide warned in a report to Annan after the riots that prolonging Kosovo's uncertain status was not an option.