PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - The European Union launched planning Monday for what one official called its largest and most complex civilian mission: the management of rule of law in Kosovo after a settlement for the disputed province is reached.
The EU foreign ministers meeting established the planning team during the meeting in Luxembourg.
The future EU involvement in Kosovo will be "the most challenging civilian mission" the bloc has seen to date, said Torbjorn Sohlstrom, a senior EU official in Kosovo.
A team of 25 security experts from the EU will be working in establishing the future mission at a time when the U.N.-mediated talks aim to find a resolution of one of the most intractable territorial problems left after the collapse of former Yugoslavia -- whether Kosovo becomes independent or remains part of Serbia.
A key objective of the future mission would be the implementation of a status settlement, Sohlstrom said, adding that the mission can be launched only after an agreement on the status is reached.
International officials have said that they expect the talks to end during 2006 and have urged the EU to take on a larger role and responsibility in the sensitive fields of justice and police after that.
The ultimate authority in these areas rest with the province's international overseers despite recent transfer of some of the responsibilities to local government.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and patrolled by NATO since a 1999 bombing campaign by the alliance, aimed at ending a crackdown by Serb forces on independence-minded ethnic Albanian rebels.
The United Nations is already planning its role and opening the way for new models of international presence in the province. The EU is part of the U.N. administrative mechanism in the province.
Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu welcomed the decision, indicating that the province's leadership is ready to accept continued international presence after the status issue is resolved.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who comprise about 90 percent of the province's population of 2 million, want outright independence from Serbia. Serbia, however, insists on retaining some control over the region, which it considers an integral part of the nation.
Western diplomats have said Kosovo's quest for independence is conditional on the province becoming a democracy that respects minority rights.