BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Martii Ahtisaari, the U.N. envoy to lead talks on Kosovo's future, called on the 25-nation European Union on Monday to step up aid and involvement in the reconstruction of the troubled Balkan province.
Speaking to an EU seminar on crisis management, the former Finnish president said the EU should "shoulder an even bigger share of responsibility of the peace and stability in Kosovo." He said the EU had to look at taking over policing and judicial reforms and administration in Kosovo once the future of the province, which is still part of Serbia-Montenegro, is settled.
"The member states have to start preparing for this undertaking both in terms of financial resources and the significant number of personnel," he said.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU "can make a huge contribution" in the years ahead. The EU has given euro60 million (US$70 million) in reconstruction aid to Kosovo this year, aiming to back political and economic reforms there.
Ahtisaari was picked by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to oversee status talks for Kosovo. The Finn faces a difficult task, as Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians want independence, while Serbia wants to retain some formal control over the province.
Ahtisaari told reporters he would go to the Balkans later this month and move to Vienna by January to start the negotiations. His talks next week would be with officials in Kosovo, Serbia-Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania, he said.
He refused to set a deadline by which an agreement on the future of Kosovo was expected.
"Everyone understands that this process can't go on forever and we have to go forward as fast as we can," Ahtisaari said, adding he welcomed all the proposals being put forward.
There are three possible outcomes to the talks: independence for Kosovo with some international oversight for years to come; partition along ethnic lines; or some form of status that preserves Serbia's sovereignty over the territory.
Kosovo, which now is a province of Serbia, has been administered by the United Nations and patrolled by NATO peacekeepers since mid-1999, when NATO launched an air war to halt a crackdown by Yugoslav government troops against separatist ethnic Albanian rebels.
He said the talks will involve a contact group with representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States, and stressed that the EU has a key role to play in reaching a solution.
The EU appointed Stefan Lehne as its representative to help Ahtisaari in the talks. The Austrian currently serves as director for southeastern Europe at EU headquarters and is a senior adviser to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Ahtisaari recently oversaw the successful negotiations between the Indonesian government and Aceh separatist rebels, which has led to the decommissioning of rebel forces in the Indonesian province and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the province.