Wed Oct 5, 2005 6:44 AM ET
By Matthew Robinson
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) - Special envoy Kai Eide has submitted a report to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that diplomats say will trigger talks on the fate of Serbia's U.N.-run province of Kosovo.
A U.N. spokesman said Eide handed over his assessment of Kosovo's progress toward U.N.-set standards of democracy and minority rights late on Tuesday.
"The secretary-general will study the report and then forward it together with his recommendations for the next steps to the Security Council," Neeraj Singh told Reuters.
He said the council would take up the issue in the second half of this month. U.N. officials say if 15-member body agrees, talks on Kosovo's future status could begin in November.
Legally part of Serbia, the majority Albanian province has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombing drove out Serb forces accused of killing and expelling thousands of Albanian civilians in a two-year war against guerrillas.
The 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority is increasingly impatient for independence. Serbia says Kosovo must remain part of Serbia and wants the talks delayed, arguing Pristina has done little to improve the rights of 100,000 Kosovo Serbs.
Diplomats and U.N. officials say Eide's report criticizes the lack of progress but recommends talks begin, echoing concern voiced by the European Union and United States at prolonging Kosovo's political and economic limbo.
The United Nations is publicly non-committal on the possible outcome, though a European diplomat told Reuters last week that Western powers would push for a form of conditional independence.
Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari is expected to lead what could be months of shuttle diplomacy between Serb leaders in Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina, with the possibility of talks in Vienna.
Echoing the mood of optimism among Kosovo Albanians, the front page of the Pristina daily Express on Tuesday showed a tick in a box next to the headline "Standards".
"Eide recommended the start of talks on final status through shuttle diplomacy," the paper wrote, quoting diplomatic sources. "According to Eide, Kosovo has the capacity to become a sustainable society."