By Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - A team of British experts is to review Kosovo's future security needs, officials said on Wednesday, as the U.N.-run province nears talks which the Albanian majority hopes will yield independence.
Invited by Kosovo's U.N. governor, experts from the British Ministry of Defence will create a "secretariat" comprising mainly ethnic Albanians, to consider what security and civilian oversight bodies Kosovo will need once its status is decided.
U.N. chief security adviser Iain Smailes said regional capitals including Belgrade would be kept informed. "There will be no secrets" but the process would have "local ownership".
"The hopes and fears of everybody in Kosovo will be taken into account," Smailes told reporters. Belgrade opposes independence for what is still formally a Serbian province.
U.N. governor Soren Jessen-Petersen said in a statement: "It is only appropriate that a system that addresses the security needs of Kosovans is designed by Kosovans themselves."
The United Nations has run Kosovo since the 1999 war. It plans to open negotiations this year that will answer Yes or No to the 90-percent Albanian majority's demand for statehood.
NO RETURN TO 1999
Western powers have refused to go public on whether or not Kosovo should become independent but have ruled out a return to its pre-1999 status. The West believes Serbia forfeited the moral authority to rule because of its treatment of Albanians.
Washington and several European capitals are said to be considering some form of "conditional independence" under the oversight of the European Union.
Analysts say forcing Kosovo's 1.9 million ethnic Albanians back to Serbian rule would mean a return to violent conflict.
Smailes said the security review would run parallel with and "feed off" the negotiations expected to begin in September.
Serbia has frequently accused the United Nations of flouting its sovereignty over land it says is the sacred cradle of the nation by helping Albanians establish the trappings of independence.
The U.N. mission has replaced the Serbian dinar with the euro, established a customs service, licence plates and postal codes and has applied for an international telephone code.
Serb leaders say such moves prejudge the outcome of negotiations.
A 17,100-strong NATO-led peace force and 3,000 U.N. police officers currently head security in Kosovo but are gradually handing responsibility to the multi-ethnic Kosovo police.
Kosovo does not have its own military. The rebel army which fought the 1998-99 guerrilla war against Serb forces was later transformed into a civilian emergency force, but most Kosovo Albanians still see it as the embryo army of their state.