UNITED NATIONS, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A key U.N. report that could launch negotiations on the future of Kosovo has been delayed to press for improved treatment of the breakaway Serbian province's Serb minority, diplomats said on Wednesday.
They said U.N. special envoy Kai Eide told a meeting of major powers overseeing Balkans diplomacy at U.N. headquarters on Tuesday that he would take several more weeks to produce the study on democracy and civil rights standards in Kosovo, which he had been expected to present this week.
The province has been a U.N. protectorate since NATO ended the 1998-99 guerrilla war by bombing Yugoslavia to compel Serbia to withdraw its forces.
Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority increasingly wants independence, but Serbia is opposed.
Eide declined to set any date for completing his report. He told the Contact Group of the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the European Union and the United Nations he wanted to use the drafting process to exert leverage on the Albanian government in Pristina and on Belgrade to be more cooperative, the diplomats said.
"It won't be ready for a few weeks and he won't say when to keep up pressure on the parties," a Western diplomat said.
Several members of the Contact Group told Eide they would like to see the report as soon as possible, participants said.
A delay of several weeks would come as an unwelcome surprise in Kosovo, where Albanian officials and media expected his recommendation to be made any day now and certainly before the end of September.
Kosovo's Albanian newspaper Zeri reported on Wednesday that the United Nations, United States and European Union had agreed to appoint former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as special envoy for talks on the territory's "final status".
But U.N. officials said no decision had been taken, although they acknowledged that the veteran Finnish mediator, who recently brokered a peace deal for the Indonesian province of Aceh, was the most-mentioned name.
A statement issued by the Contact Group said that "should progress be deemed sufficient", the final status talks could begin by the end of this year.
"The Contact Group urges the leaders of Kosovo to increase their efforts to ensure the implementation of standards at all levels to ensure that commitments undertaken are translated into concrete action," the statement said.
"It also urges the Belgrade authorities to do their utmost to facilitate this process."
Officially, the United Nations says it will wait for Eide's report and only appoint a status envoy to mediate between Belgrade and Pristina if his review is positive.
Ahtisaari's office denied any official appointments had been made.
"Our view is really that the U.N. will decide on this, not the diplomatic circles," said spokeswoman Kristiina Ahovuori.
The respected Pristina daily said Ahtisaari would have three deputies from the United States, the EU and Russia.
Ahtisaari, 68, started his career in the Finnish diplomatic service then worked for the United Nations. He became president of Finland in 1994 and in early 1999 was one of the chief negotiators trying to end the Kosovo war.
Ahtisaari's most recent success was negotiating a peace accord between the Indonesian government and separatist rebels in Aceh province, ending a 30-year conflict that killed more than 12,000 people.