PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro, May 13 (AFP) -
Talks slated for later this year on the possible independence of Kosovo could be postponed without faster progress on UN-set democratic standards, the NATO chief said Friday.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer issued the warning to Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which is demanding independence from Serbia, during a trip to the southern province.
"We have seen some encouraging signs but there is a lot do. If there is no more concrete progress ... in meeting the standards the process may be postponed," he told reporters.
A NATO air campaign in 1999 against the forces of then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, now facing war crimes charges at The Hague, ended a bitter conflict between Serbian troops and Kosovo Albanian separatist guerrillas.
Kosovo remains technically part of Serbia but NATO has almost 20,000 troops in the province and it has been under UN administration since the war.
The ethnic Albanian-dominated government has been promised the UN would review its progress toward meeting UN-set benchmarks of democracy and human rights in June.
If progress is deemed satisfactory the world body would begin talks with all parties on Kosovo's future status -- whether it will become independent or remain part of Serbia.
NATO has been heavily criticised for failing to stop three days of organised anti-Serb riots in the province in March which killed 19 people and drove thousands of people from the minority community out of their homes.
Scheffer said that in talks earlier Friday with Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi he had stressed the importance of minority rights and the involvement of Serbs in Kosovo institutions.
"The world is watching Kosovo as the standards evaluation comes closer. Any extremism and violence will set back the process and will not be tolerated," he said.
He also urged expanding an ongoing, technical-level dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on "practical issues" such refugees and energy.
"Political talks between Pristina and Belgrade must begin and they must be talks not only on technical matters," he said.