The New York Times
By WARREN HOGE
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 7 - Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended to the Security Council on Friday that talks begin without delay on the future of Kosovo, with independence for an option.
"The question of independence is on the table, the question of autonomy is on the table," he told reporters in Bern, Switzerland. "We will discuss all that with Belgrade, with Pristina, with neighboring countries and other interested countries."
He said he was acting after receiving a report three days ago from his special envoy to Kosovo, Kai Eide of Norway, on the province's progress in meeting standards of democracy and minority rights.
Mr. Eide's report said progress had been made in establishing civic, judicial and legislative bodies, public services and economic structures. But it said property rights, which it identified as a key element in settling Kosovo's ethnically divided society, "are neither respected nor ensured."
Debilitating ethnic tensions remain high, with the majority ethnic Albanians doing little to reassure minority Serbs, the report said.
"The Kosovo Serbs fear that they will become a decoration to any central-level political institution with little ability to yield tangible results," the report said. "The Kosovo Albanians have done little to dispel it." Kosovo is a province of Serbia now under United Nations supervision.
Nevertheless, the report says, nothing will be gained by putting off decisions any longer. "There will not be any good moment for addressing Kosovo's future status; it will continue to be a highly sensitive political issue," the report says. "Nevertheless, an overall assessment leads to the conclusion that the time has come to commence this process."
Mr. Annan said he would be naming "in a very short time" a new person to lead the coming talks. "What's important," he said, "is that talks begin soon."
The Security Council is to take up the question on Oct. 24, and diplomats predicted that the talks would begin before the end of the year.
Kosovo's United Nations governor, Soren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark, has indicated that negotiations would be conducted on a shuttle basis between Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and protected by NATO peacekeepers since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign halted Serbia's repression of ethnic Albanians, which followed an uprising by Albanian guerrillas.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's two million people, hope that the discussions will mark the final step toward seceding from Serbia and Montenegro, the union that joins the remaining republics of the former Yugoslavia.
Serbia is adamantly opposed to such an outcome. Half of Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs live in NATO- protected enclaves, and Serbian officials have argued that this is evidence that there have not been sufficient advances in minority rights.
They also point to mass rioting in March 2004, when 50,000 ethnic Albanians took part in a three-day wave of attacks on Serbs and other minorities, resulting in 19 deaths. Four thousand people were driven from their homes.
In Washington, R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said the United States "fully supports" Mr. Annan's decision and would be "centrally involved" in the negotiations. He said Washington would assign an American envoy to follow the discussions and help the two sides resolve the status of the province.
Calling the current political arrangement unsustainable, Mr. Burns said: "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 that future is of continued association with Serbia-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."