HELSINKI, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Talks on the future of Kosovo need to address practical questions quickly, Martti Ahtisaari, the U.N. special envoy to the disputed Serb province, was quoted as saying on Saturday.
The first round of face-to-face negotiations between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials are due to take place in Vienna on Monday after being delayed by the death of Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova on Jan. 21.
"We have to come to practical questions quickly, not only (discuss) which norms will be enforced but also how the purely concrete issues will be resolved," Ahtisaari told Finnish daily Hufvudstadbladet in an interview.
Kosovo is legally part of Serbia, and the province became a U.N. protectorate in 1999 when NATO bombings drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against Albanian civilians in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas.
Serbia officially opposes Kosovo's independence, but 90 percent of the population are ethnic Albanians who demand nothing less than their own state after years of discrimination and violent repression.
Ahtisaari, who is a former Finnish president, said that decentralisation of Kosovo was the first item of discussion, adding it was no suprise for there to be a difference of opinion on the independence of Kosovo at the beginning of the talks.
"(But) it's not only a question of what Belgrade and Pristina want. We have to remember that Kosovo's future is in the hands of the Security Council," Ahtisaari said.
"It is of utmost importance to create conditions in which all minorities can feel safe and can stay in the area if they want to," he said, adding that the focus would be on changing laws and on other concrete measures.
He also said that for Serbia there was more at stake than a solution on Kosovo, and if Belgrade proved unable to cooperate, it could impact the country's integration into Europe and make membership in the EU or NATO difficult.
The U.N. Security Council appointed Ahtisaari at the end of last year to head a mediation process to decide on Kosovo's "final status".
Earlier this year the Contact Group of major powers -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- said a deal should be on the table within a year.
When asked about the timetable for talks, Ahtisaari said his mandate lasted until Nov. 9.