PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro, June 1, 2006 (AFP) -
The United Nations mission administering Kosovo (UNMIK) said Thursday it had begun preparations to leave the southern Serbian province after the final settlement on its status is reached.
"We are preparing for exit", UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen told reporters.
Jessen-Petersen said the international administration, which has run the province since 1999, has already started to make the preparations to leave Kosovo.
"UNMIK has already started cutting its staff, and this is obvious because we are preparing to leave Kosovo after the status settlement," he said.
After NATO drove out forces under then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic cracking down on ethnic Albanian separatists in mid-1999, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, establishing a UN protectorate over Kosovo.
Since February, Belgrade and officials of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian government have been engaged in the UN-sponsored talks over the future status of the province, but no significant progress has been made yet.
Belgrade insists it could accept a large degree of autonomy for the province within Serbia, but the majority ethnic Albanian population wants nothing short of independence.
Speaking after the meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku, Jessen-Petersen said Resolution 1244 "will become invalid the moment that the UN Security Council approves a new resolution that will define Kosovo's future status."
Jessen-Petersen and Ceku will both attend a Security Council session later in June, focused on progress in fulfilling the internationally-set standards in the province.