By Mark John
BRUSSELS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The European Union should consider taking over law enforcement in Kosovo from the United Nations as part of a more active engagement in the Balkans, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Wednesday.
Solana told a European Parliament hearing in Brussels that the EU had taken over security duties from NATO in Bosnia last year and said "something very similar will have to happen eventually with our relationship with Kosovo".
Asked by EU deputies if he saw EU troops replacing the 17,000-strong NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in the U.N.-administered Serbian province, he said: "KFOR should continue ... But a different story may be the police."
He said the U.N. mission that handles police work in Kosovo would not stay there indefinitely and urged EU states to begin assessing whether the bloc could take on those tasks.
The United Nations has run the majority-Albanian province since 1999, when NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of killing or expelling thousands of Albanian civilians in a two-year war against guerrillas.
Diplomats expect internationally backed talks on the status of the province -- including whether it should gain independence from Belgrade -- to start soon. A U.N. special envoy handed his report on the issue to U.N. chief Kofi Annan on Tuesday.
Speaking one day after the EU opened accession talks with Croatia, Solana said the 25-member bloc could not expect to be taken seriously as a global security player unless it took a full part in keeping the Balkans stable.
"We need to create the mood and spirit that this problem is our problem," he told European deputies in a four-hour hearing on EU foreign policy also attended by EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
"If we can't give a constructive response, we will be in a difficult situation as far as showing we can do it elsewhere."
As well as opening accession talks with Croatia, EU foreign ministers earlier this week put Serbia-Montenegro on the first rung of the long ladder to membership by starting talks on a "stabilisation and association agreement (SAA)".
Some have asked why the EU began accession talks with Zagreb before Croatia had delivered fugitive ex-general Ante Gotovina, indicted for crimes against humanity during the 1992-95 Bosnia war, to the Hague international tribunal.
Solana said the EU had received the go-ahead from the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, and said the EU must show itself favourable to the membership hopes of the Balkan states.
"We have to keep open the EU perspective and repeat it and repeat it when we visit these countries," he said, warning that public frustration could otherwise grow.
"And you know how frustration shows itself sometimes in these countries," he said, indicating the potential for unrest.