PRISTINA (AP)--A U.N. mediator for Kosovo said Thursday his team was determined to create ways of ensuring the Serb minority remains in the province after a settlement on the province's future is reached.
Albert Rohan, the deputy U.N. envoy for the Kosovo talks, spoke at the conclusion of a three-day visit, during which he met with ethnic Albanian leaders who insist on full independence for the Serbian province, and Serb mayors who warned him of possible partition if it should gain independence.
He said his team was working to create conditions that would enable Kosovo's Serb minority to live there.
"We try to make arrangements so that people can stay," Rohan said.
"When the mayors told me that they couldn't live in independence if this were the outcome of the status process, I told them this is your decision," Rohan said.
"We cannot force you to stay, we cannot force anybody to return," he added. "What we can do is to provide conditions, where objectively we can expect the Serbs to stay here and to come back."
He said the international community rejected any partition of the province.
Rohan presented the leaders a plan on the reform of local government in Kosovo, meant to give the Serb minority a greater say in the areas where they form a majority.
The document - which contains points of agreement and compromise solutions from two rounds of talks held by the former foes - calls for maximum authority for municipalities and cooperation between them, but rejects the creation of a separate entity or an internal division of Kosovo, Rohan said.
He expressed hope that the sides would come closer to a deal on local government in April. Issues such as the status of the Serbian Orthodox churches, protection of minority rights, the division of assets and liabilities between Serbia and Kosovo and the post-status international presence will also be discussed.
Kosovo, formally still part of Serbia-Montenegro, has been under U.N. administrative control since mid-1999, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization halted Serb forces' crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Its status is now being negotiated through U.N.-sponsored talks, which are being mediated by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. He was appointed by the U.N. to steer the two sides toward agreement by year's end.
Rohan also expressed support for the creation of new municipalities for the ethnic minorities in the areas where they form a majority in Kosovo.
Only about 100,000 Serbs still live in Kosovo, mainly in NATO-protected enclaves. Tens of thousands of others have fled, fearing reprisal attacks, or have been forced out since the end of the war.
Western diplomats have said Kosovo's quest for independence is conditional on the province becoming a democracy that respects minority rights, with local government reform a key to that goal.