Thursday, July 27, 2006

U.S. envoy tells ethnic Albanians, Serbs to improve minority rights in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - The U.S. envoy to the Kosovo status talks on Thursday urged ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders to intensify efforts to improve the rights of the province's Serb minority.

During a visit to Kosovo, U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner said the two former foes need "to put in place a common vision, a practical and a realistic solution to the way forward for Kosovo."

Wisner met with the province's ethnic Albanian leaders a day after he appealed to Serbia's leadership for flexibility and compromise in resolving the dispute over the breakaway province.

Ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders met in Vienna, Austria, on Monday for the first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's status.

There was no breakthrough in those talks, with both sides entrenched in their positions -- the Serbs want Kosovo to remain within its borders, while the ethnic Albanians insist on independence.

"The job ahead of us today is to put in place the necessary elements of a final status package before we define the package," Wisner said. "That means realistic solutions to the outstanding issues of municipalities, churches, minorities and economics."

He also reiterated that Western countries supervising the process aim to resolve the province's status by the end of the year.

Most of the discussions since talks began have failed to produce a concensus.

The next round of talks is Aug. 7-8 and will deal with local reform and minority rights, a U.N. official said.

Kosovo has been run by United Nations and patrolled by NATO since mid-1999 when alliance's air war halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians and forced Serbia to relinquish control over it.

Some form of independence for Kosovo is the most likely outcome of the talks, but Western envoys are trying to steer the two sides toward improving the rights of the province's Serb minority, who live in guarded enclaves.

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