Friday, October 07, 2005

Kosovo set for 'breakaway' talks

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Talks on whether Kosovo should remain part of Serbia or be given independence should start soon, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said.

He made the recommendation to the UN Security Council after a report on human rights in the province, run by the UN since the war ended in 1999.

Kai Eide, one of his envoys, spent four months testing the water for talks.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities want independence but Serbia wants to keep the province.

Mr Annan said he was preparing to appoint a peace broker to negotiate between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo.

"The question of autonomy and independence has been raised, and we have to talk to Belgrade and Pristina," he said.

"We will start soon."

The talks are expected to take the form of shuttle diplomacy.

Human rights concerns

The task of mediating is expected to be assigned to the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who helped broker a ceasefire between Nato and Serbia in 1999.

Western diplomats say Mr Eide's report, which remains confidential for the time being, notes several shortcomings in Kosovo's standards of democracy, in the work of its legal institutions and in the protection of its Serb minority.

Half of the province's 100,000 Serbs live in Nato-protected enclaves.

The report is expected to say that Kosovo Albanians must make further progress in these areas before the talks can conclude.

Belgrade has complained that Serbs in Kosovo are denied basic human rights such as safety and freedom of movement.

Nato air attacks drove Serb troops out of Kosovo in 1999 in a campaign to stop what the West said was persecution of the majority Albanians, some of whom had taken up arms against the Serb forces.

The ethnically divided city of Mitrovica is still a flashpoint

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