ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
For nearly six years Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations. It took over after NATO drove Serbian forces from Kosovo to end the repression of the ethnic Albanian majority there. Now the UN is calling for talks on the final status of Kosovo, and NPR's Michele Kelemen has this report.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's point man on Kosovo handed him a report this week that's now being studied by Security Council members. Though the report criticizes Albanian leaders in Kosovo for failing to meet democracy and human rights standards, it does recommend that talks on Kosovo's future should begin, something Annan repeated when he spoke to reporters in Switzerland today.
(Soundbite of news conference)
Mr. KOFI ANNAN (UN Secretary-General): (French spoken)
KELEMEN: Annan said he wants to open discussions about the status of Kosovo. He said the talks will cover the question of independence or greater autonomy for the province. Here in Washington, undersecretary of State for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, said the US backs Annan's efforts.
Mr. NICHOLAS BURNS (Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs): Everybody agrees--certainly all the members of the group of countries that have been involved in Kosovo now for the last six years--that the status quo cannot be tolerated, sustained any longer, that we've got to move on and help the people of the region determine what their own future is going to be.
KELEMEN: Burns is preparing to go to Kosovo to tell the leaders of both the Albanian and Serb communities that they ought to be ready for negotiations before the end of this year.
Mr. BURNS: The people of the region have a right to know that they have a future and that they can control that future. And whether or not the future is of continued association with Serbia and Montenegro or the future is of independence, that is not a decision for the United Nations or the United States or any of the European countries to make. That is a decision for the people to make, but they have to have a negotiating framework.
KELEMEN: John Norris of the International Crisis Group says it's about time. He's been worried about violence in Kosovo.
Mr. JOHN NORRIS (International Crisis Group): There is a steady level of retrograde violence throughout the province, some of it ethnic, some of it simply criminal. It's fortunate that NATO is still there in force, but the reluctance of the international community to take this on, I think, has pushed some in the Kosovar Albanian community to believe that violence might be a means to an end.
KELEMEN: The US has not publicly come out in favor of Kosovo's independence. Norris predicts the final settlement will be something just short of that. He says there will have to be continued NATO or European Union military presence and continued international support for Kosovo's fledgling government. And he says negotiators will have to have something to offer the Serbian government in Belgrade.
Mr. NORRIS: What can the international community put on the table to basically appease Belgrade and feel that their interests are being protected and there is some reward for giving a piece of territory that they still view as very culturally and historically significant?
KELEMEN: Undersecretary of State Burns will also be traveling to Belgrade next week not just to talk about Kosovo. He plans to renew his pressure on Serbian leaders to turn over indicted war criminals from the Bosnian conflict for trial in The Hague. Burns says he was disappointed that authorities in Belgrade didn't take any action after his last trip to the region. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.