BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The European Union on Monday appointed one of its top Balkan specialists, Stefan Lehne, as its representative in upcoming U.N. talks on whether Kosovo should become independent or remain linked to Serbia.
Lehne, an Austrian, currently serves as director for southeastern Europe in the secretariat of the EU's council and is a senior adviser to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
He was appointed by EU foreign ministers, who also gave their full backing to former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as the chief U.N. envoy overseeing the Kosovo status talks expected to start this month.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when a NATO bombing campaign halted a crackdown by Serbian troops on ethnic Albanian separatists. The territory's Serb minority wants to keep a link with Serbia, while the majority Albanians seek independence.
The EU foreign ministers restated the EU's position that a status settlement should respect the rights of all minorities. They said Kosovo could not return to the pre-1999 situation of direct rule from Serbia, nor be partitioned nor united with any other country.
Although the bloc has not taken a public position on independence, EU officials increasingly believe it is inevitable, given the ethnic-Albanian's hostility to restoration of ties with Belgrade. The ministers' statement said the eventual solution of Kosovo's status should leave open the prospect of both Serbia and Kosovo joining the EU.