PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro, Nov 20 (AFP) -
Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi says he is sure talks on the status of the UN-run province starting with shuttle diplomacy on Monday will confirm its independence from Serbia.
"Practically, Kosovo has been functioning independently for six years and, with regard to relations with Serbia, it is already 100 percent independent," Kosumi said in an interview with AFP.
"Kosovo's legal status is still not defined and the negotiations are meant to define legally, together with the international community, Kosovo's independence," he said.
The UN-sponsored talks are aimed at resolving the status of Kosovo, which Belgrade lost authority over after a bombing campaign by NATO ended a crackdown by then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's forces against ethnic Albanian rebels in June 1999.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo's population, are demanding independence from Belgrade, which Serbs strongly oppose.
The recently appointed chief UN mediator for the talks, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, is to visit Pristina on Monday, marking the start of the negotiations.
Ahtisaari's return to the Balkans comes six and a half years after he played an important role in convincing Milosevic to accept the presence of international authorities in the province after 78 days of NATO air strikes.
Kosumi, elected prime minister in March 2005 to replace Ramush Haradinaj who resigned after he was indicted for war crimes, told AFP that Belgrade and Pristina would have to find common ground on many things -- excluding independence.
"If it was left to Belgrade and Pristina to find common ground on Kosovo's final status, (the problem) would have been resolved 100 years ago. But this was impossible because of the political circumstances in Belgrade and it remains impossible," he said.
Kosumi said the two sides would "have to find a common language for many open questions; from the position of the Serb minority in Kosovo and its cultural and religious heritage to many problems in our relations generated in the past and which still influence our relations".
As there is no clear schedule for the talks, many analysts believe they will last long enough, with an intention to provide negotiators an opportunity to find a common solution on Kosovo's future.
But Ahtisaari's new mission in the Balkans is expected to be more complicated than it was last time around.
The Finn will attempt to reconcile ethnic Albanians, who were oppressed during the Milosevic years, and Serbs, who say their claim to the province is based on historic and cultural roots dating back to the middle ages when few Albanians lived in the area.
But Kosumi said Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was "in a difficult position," although he insisted the solution for disputed Kosovo was "very easy."
"Belgrade has a chance to distance itself finally from the radical politics and the approach that over recent decades has pushed Serbia into endless wars and led to bloodshed all over the former Yugoslavia," he said.
Kostunica had to end this trend "in a revolutionary way, to free his nation from the burden of the past and offer a new opportunity to Serbia, Kosovo and all nations in the region that had suffered from Serbian politics," said Kosumi.
He insisted Kosovo Serbs should engage in the political life of Kosovo, saying their boycott of institutions and political processes "damages their interests."
"I call on Kosovo Serb politicians to think about their responsibilities towards their voters," Kosumi said.
Kosovo Serb politicians describe the situation in the province as insecure and dangerous for their community, notably since riots 18 months ago that seriously damaged their confidence with NATO-led security forces (KFOR) and the Albanian population.
During three days of violence in March 2004, 19 people were killed, nearly 900 were injured and an estimated 4,500 -- most of them Serbs -- were forced from their homes.
The violence, in which dozens of ancient Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were also demolished, was denounced by KFOR at the time as an attempt at "ethnic cleansing" by ethnic Albanians.
But Kosumi said: "Kosovo Serbs have no other future except the one in Kosovo. Wherever they go, to Serbia or somewhere else, they will have a tougher time than here. Kosovo is their home and their future."