The situation in Kosovo, where UN and NATO missions are trying to keep the peace between ethnic Albanian and Serbians, cannot be sustained and must be changed through pivotal negotiations next month, a top US official said.
"There is no question that the status quo cannot be sustained and it has to be changed," Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, told reporters at the US embassy in Paris.
A UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Monday would ask UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to appoint a special UN envoy to handle negotiations, which will determine the future of the territory, he said.
"The Kosovo final status talks should begin in the month of November," Burns said, adding that he would be appointed the US negotiator.
"We don't know where this process is going to lead, but it has to lead to something better than the status quo that has not been conducive to either stability or peace in Kosovo over the course of the past several years."
The "US very firmly supports" the talks, he said.
Kosovo, technically part of Serbia, has been under UN administration since June 1999 when NATO forced Serbian armed forces to cease their crackdown on ethnic Albanians and to withdraw from the territory.
Since then, NATO peacekeepers, including US and French troops, have been trying to maintain peace amid frequent flare-ups of violence between the ethnic Albanians and the dwindling ethnic Serbian minority.
The ethnic Albanians are seeking full independence, but that has been rejected by Belgrade.
Burns said the issue was one of several he discussed with French officials during his one-day trip to Paris.
The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, said in neighbouring Albania Wednesday that "we have all come to the conclusion that after six years ... the status quo is no longer tenable."
He confirmed that the UN Security Council session next week would set a timetable for the negotiations and that they would begin next month.
"There is an absolute agreement throughout the region, Europe and the world that the Kosovo that emerges from the decision (about its) status must be a stable, tolerant, multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo," Petersen said.