BELGRADE, Oct 7 (AFP)
UN chief Kofi Annan said Friday talks would begin "soon" on the future status of Kosovo, the disputed province whose ethnic Albanian majority is seeking independence from Serbia.
"The question of autonomy and independence has been raised, and we have to talk to Belgrade and Pristina. We will start soon," said Annan after he received a report on the implementation of rights in Kosovo.
The key issue in the talks is whether or not the province, still technically a part of Serbia, should be allowed to become independent. Serbia opposes full independence.
The UN secretary general said the process would begin with the appointment of a peace broker representing the United Nations, which currently runs Kosovo, in discussions with authorities in Pristina and Belgrade.
"I am about to appoint someone who will lead the talks between Belgrade, Pristina and the UN," Annan told reporters in the Swiss capital Bern.
Media in Serbia and Kosovo have reported recently that former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari is the top candidate for the UN role.
Ahtisaari was the international community's top envoy when he brokered a deal with then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to bring an end to the Kosovo war in June 1999.
The European Union, the United States and Russia are expected to name envoys to assist the UN-appointed peace broker.
"It is important to work on the decentralization and implementation of the standards in Kosovo, which is essential for the construction of the multiethnic society in Kosovo," Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) told reporters in Belgrade.
He was speaking after meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who said the "precondition for talks on Kosovo future is full implementation of the standards" on minority and human rights.
The preparations for the delicate negotiations on the future status of Kosovo gathered pace after Annan received the report from his special ambassador to the province, Kai Eide of Norway.
The report focused on progress made in implementing internationally sought democratic standards in the province, in particular in the area of enforcing minority rights.
Friday, Annan sent a copy of Eide's report to the UN Security Council along with a letter in which he indicated his intention to appoint a peacebroker to lead the future status talks.
"As indicated in the report, Mr Eide has concluded that, while standards implementation in Kosovo has been uneven, the time has come to move to the next phase of the political process," the UN chief said in his letter.
"In undertaking this sensitive exercise, the (future) special envoy will be conscious of concerns in the sub-region," Annan added. "I would emphasize that, at the same time, standards implementation must continue with greater commitment and results. Progress in this regard is essential for the success and sustainability of any future status process."
The key issue in the talks is whether or not the province, still technically a part of Serbia, should be allowed to become independent.
Following the announcements in Bern and Belgrade, Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi made a live television address in Pristina, saying Annan's recommendation was a beginning of the process of "establishing the state of Kosovo."
"The state of Kosovo would be based on law, respect of human values and democracy," Kosumi said.
The Serbian side for its part has said it would offer Pristina "more than autonomy, less than independence."
According to Kostunica's envoy to Kosovo, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, Serbia would propose keeping control of Kosovo's frontiers and centralising the province's fiscal and customs concerns.
Serbia would seek "one defence minister, one foreign minister and one seat" at the United Nations for both Serbia and Kosovo, she said recently, adding that Pristina would have all other legal, legislative and executive powers.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since a bombing campaign by the military alliance forced Serbian forces to end a 1998-1999 crackdown against Albanian separatists.
The UN Security Council is expected to take up the issue in the second half of this month.