Monday, October 31, 2005

Kosovo's Negotiating Team In Disarray

PRISTINA (AP)--Kosovo's ethnic Albanian negotiating team was in disarray Monday after one of its members accused two others of plotting against him, signalling an uneasy start for U.N.-sponsored talks to resolve the disputed province's future status.

Blerim Shala, a newspaper editor and coordinator of Kosovo's negotiating team, accused the head of Kosovo's parliament Nexhat Daci of using the media to discredit him.

Shala also accused Daci and the leader of the opposition Hashim Thaci of breaking a confidentiality agreement following a meeting last week, when the group failed to agree on how to approach the upcoming talks on Kosovo's future.

The Kosovo media reported extensively over the weekend on the discord among ethnic Albanian negotiators.

Shala's powers are at the center of the controversy along with who should lead the working groups that will prepare position papers for the talks. Shala's proposals were apparently shot down during the last weeks meeting.

The launch of negotiations on Kosovo's future was approved last week by the U.N. Security Council. They are expected to get underway in November, as soon as an envoy, believed to most likely be former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, is appointed to lead the process.

In addition to Shala, the Kosovo team led by the province's ailing president, Ibrahim Rugova, also includes the prime minister, two opposition leaders and the head of the legislative assembly.

The five leaders hold widely differing views on some issues and have clashed in the past over the direction the negotiating team should take.

Western diplomats and U.N. officials have expressed frustration that the bickering ethnic Albanian leaders have slowed preparations for the talks.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90% of Kosovo's 2 million people, want nothing short of full independence. They argue that Serbia has lost the right to govern the province following the war that left an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians dead.

Serb leaders, however, insist on keeping at least some formal control over the troubled province - a place many Serbs consider the heart of their nation.

The U.N. has administered Kosovo since NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia. The NATO bombardment forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end a crackdown on rebel ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and relinquish Serbia's control over the province.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

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