Tuesday, July 25, 2006

U.S. envoy urges Serbian officials to be more flexible in Kosovo talks

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A U.S. envoy for Kosovo status talks on Tuesday urged Serbian officials to be more flexible in negotiations over the future of the breakaway province, officials said.

Frank Wisner also said that U.N.-brokered negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina over the contested region, should "continue and intensify," according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's office.

Wisner visited Belgrade a day after top ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders met in Vienna, Austria, for the first face-to-face talks over Kosovo's status.

During the talks, both sides remained entrenched in their opposing positions: the Serbs want Kosovo to remain within its borders, while the Kosovo Albanians only want independence.

In his meetings with Serbian officials, Wisner urged "Belgrade to play a constructive role in the ongoing negotiations to ensure a peaceful, democratic Kosovo that protects the rights of all its residents," a U.S. Embassy statement said.

Kostunica reiterated that Serbia "would not allow that a new Albanian state be created on 15 percent of its territory," the statement from the premier's office said.

It quoted Kostunica as praising the "readiness to talk," and insisting that Serbia was ready to grant a "truly substantial autonomy" for Kosovo.

Wisner was expected to relay a similar message to ethnic Albanian negotiators when he visits Kosovo. A date has not been announced, but he will probably visit the province within the next couple of days.

Western envoys hope to finish the negotiations by the end of 2006.

The most likely outcome of the talks is some form of independence for Kosovo -- on the condition Kosovo can protect Serbs and other minorities in the ethnic Albanian majority province.

Serbia has no authority over the province it considers the cradle of its statehood and religion. The United Nations has administered Kosovo since a 1999 NATO air war to halt a Serb crackdown on separatist Albanians.

No comments: