UNITED NATIONS, July 13, 2006 (AFP) -
The UN special envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, said Thursday he would soon invite leaders of Serbia and Kosovo for the first high-level meeting on the territory's future status.
Speaking after briefing the Security Council on the latest developments in Kosovo, he said he hoped to have the high-level meeting in Vienna before the end of July.
He said that teams from both sides would be invited to present their positions on the status.
Leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority are pushing for independence, a demand the Serbian government firmly opposes, offering instead wide autonomy to its southern province.
Russia backs its traditional ally Serbia, and its UN mbassador, Vitaly Churkin, spoke out against "imposing a solution" on Kosovo, saying he did not see any "legal, moral ground" for forcing Serbia to accept the territory's independence.
Churkin said that while a negotiated solution by the end of the year would be welcome, "we are against an artificial deadline."
The 15-member council also heard separately from Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and from Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu.
Sejdiu, the first Kosovo official to report to the council, pressed the council to back independence for the UN-run province.
In a letter published Wednesday in The Washington Post, Kostunica warned that an independent Kosovo would become "a hotbed of chronic tension in the region" because of the province's "economic inviability," widespread crime and the risk of setting a precedent for new territorial demands.
In order to keep Kosovo as an integral part of its territory, Kostunica said Serbia was "prepared to accept any form of compromise that does not entail independence," offering the Albanian majority "the greatest possible autonomy, including all legislative, executive and judicial powers."
The UN-sponsored talks on Kosovo's future status, which began in February, are taking place in Vienna but have produced no concrete results so far.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since June 1999 when the alliance's air strikes forced Serbian forces under ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw from the Albanian-dominated province.