BELGRADE, Sept 25 (AFP) -
As preparations for the long-awaited talks on Kosovo's future status gather momentum, the chances of a breakthrough compromise between Belgrade and Pristina seem as distant as ever.
Kosovo, which is still technically part of Serbia, has been administered by the United Nations since former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's attempt to crush separatism was ended in June 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign.
The key issue in the negotiations expected to start within weeks, more than six years after the Kosovo war ended, is whether or not the Serbian province should be allowed to become independent.
Pristina says it is not even willing to discuss the subject with Belgrade, which remains vehemently opposed to any form of independence.
"Unfortunately, by still insisting only on independence, the Kosovo Albanians have not moved from the trenches from the period before 1999," Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told a session of the UN General Assembly this week.
His comments came after the Serbian government revealed for the first time a detailed explanation of its offer to Pristina of "more than autonomy, less than independence".
The Belgrade policy was to allow the Albanian side in the troubled province to have "executive, legal and legislative power" while remaining within Serbia's boundaries, its new Kosovo envoy Sanda Raskovic-Ivic said.
The recently appointed chair of Serbia's Coordination Centre for Kosovo said Belgrade's "compromise" included making Kosovo a demilitarised zone in order to prevent the formation of paramilitary units and deny Serbian forces any presence.
Kosovo's political leaders responded by flatly rejecting the proposals.
"The establishment of the state of Kosovo is an issue which is non-negotiable with Serbia," said the province's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi.
"We will negotiate with Serbia agreements on many issues of common interest such as the cultural and religious heritage of Kosovo Serbs, guarantees for the minorities in Kosovo and refugees.
"(However) we can negotiate about the future status of Kosovo only with the international community," Kosumi said.
"The international community should not waste its time and money in finding a solution that does not match with Kosovars," said Nexhat Daci, Kosovo's parliamentary speaker.
The talks on Kosovo's future status cannot start until after UN special envoy Kai Eide presents UN Secretary General Kofi Annan a report on whether the province has met a series of international democratic standards.
They are expected to be held in the form of shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina starting in November and are likely to be mediated by delegates headed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, according to Serbia-Montenegro's human rights minister, Rasim Ljajic.
A source in Belgrade close to the international community told AFP this week that it seemed clear from the preparations for the talks that the negotiations were likely to lead to "conditional independence".
"That means internal and foreign affairs transferred to Kosovo's government and everything else meaning practical independence, but without any international recognition," said the source, who wished to remain unnamed.
All powers would be transferred to Pristina but Kosovo would remain a "protectorate" of the European Union concerning human and minority rights for several years, after which the province's status would be reviewed again.
The negotiations are expected to last for several months.