SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP)--The U.N. envoy mediating the Kosovo talks said Monday he was still hopeful a solution for the status of the breakaway province could be found by the year's end despite the lack of progress so far.
Four rounds of talks in Vienna between the ethnic Albanian and Serb sides on the future of the breakaway province have failed to yield results. A fifth is expected to start May 22 and to tackle the issue of protection of Serb religious sites in the province.
"It is not surprising...that immediately we can't see that everyone agrees," Martti Ahtisaari told reporters in Sofia after meeting Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin.
But the target of having a solution by the end of the year "is the only time frame we have for the moment and we are trying to follow it," he said.
Ahtisaari conceded there had been no change in the positions of the two sides since the beginning of the talks in Vienna in November, but stressed the meetings were just "practical discussions."
"What is important is that we will see is it possible to create conditions in Kosovo where the minority - not only the Serb minority, but the other minorities as well - can live comfortably before we move to status discussions," he said.
Ahtisaari once again urged the Kosovo Serb minority to end its boycott of the province's institutions. "It's important...that everyone participates," he said.
Kalfin, the Bulgarian foreign minister, said the fact that the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs had engaged in talks was "a huge progress."
He repeated Bulgaria's position that any outcome of the status talks would be positive as long as it guarantees border stability in the region and suits both Belgrade and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo has been administered by the U.N. since a 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization air war halted a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. The ethnic Albanian majority now wants independence, while the Serbs living in Kosovo demand that it remain part of Serbia.