PRISTINA (AP)--Kosovo's U.N. administrator said Tuesday that talks to determine the disputed province's future should start by the end of the year.
"I do not see any gains in delaying status talks," said Soren Jessen-Petersen, the top U.N. official in the province. He said the next three months in Kosovo are the "most crucial months in this crucial year."
Kosovo has been disputed between the province's ethnic Albanian majority who want full independence, and the Serb minority and Serbia who insist the province remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia.
Talks to determine its future depend on the province's ability to meet internationally set standards on democracy, rule of law and civil rights for the Serb minority.
Another U.N. envoy, Kai Eide, who was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in June to review progress, said Monday that more work is needed to improve tense relations between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbs before talks can begin.
Kosovo has been administered by the U.N. and patrolled by NATO-led peacekeepers since a 78-day alliance-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
Ethnic tensions in Kosovo remain high six years since the end of the conflict. About 100,000 minority Serbs mostly live in isolated enclaves, fearing attacks from ethnic Albanians extremists.
Jessen-Petersen said Kosovo needs to focus on four areas including minority rights, economy and reform of local government in the next few months before the U.N. can appoint an envoy to mediate between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbia.