UNITED NATIONS (AP)--The United States, the European Union and Russia urged Kosovo's leaders Tuesday to step up efforts to establish a stable multi-ethnic democracy, saying this is essential in any talks on the province's future status.
The so-called Contact Group met with the U.N. administrator in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, and U.N special envoy Kai Eide, who is reviewing how far the province has come in achieving standards for democracy and multiethnicity, a key first step to a possible discussion of the future status of the U.N.- administered province.
Eide is expected to make a recommendation to Secretary-General Kofi Annan later this month on whether to recommend a start of status talks.
Kosovo officially remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia. It has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO- led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
The province's majority ethnic Albanians want full independence, but the Serb minority insists Kosovo remain part of Serbia-Montenegro.
International officials have conditioned talks on the province's future status with progress on eight standards, including establishing functioning democratic institutions, protecting minorities, promoting economic development, and ensuring rule of law, freedom of movement and property rights.
A statement issued by the Contact Group - which includes the United States, the European Union, Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Germany - said implementing the standards "is not just about getting to a status process; it must be at the heart of Kosovo's future."
The Contact Group, whose political directors met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly's ministerial meeting, acknowledged "the overall forward momentum" in implementing the standards. But it agreed with Eide's assessment " that more progress is needed to establish in Kosovo a multi-ethnic, stable and democratic society founded on the rule of law."
"Further progress on standard must therefore be made now and during the future status process once it is lost," the statement said.
The Contact Group said during Tuesday's meeting its members discussed Eide's preliminary findings - which it did not disclose - and looked forward to his comprehensive review.
"Should progress be deemed sufficient, we expect the secretary-general to make appropriate preparations so that the status process could be launched before the end of 2005, and that the Security Council can endorse this launch," the statement said.
Eide and the political directors have held discussions in Belgrade and Pristina on the principles and goals that will help determine Kosovo's future status, and on the region's progress towards Europe-Atlantic integration.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires