Monday, August 07, 2006

Serbs, Ethnic Albanians Fail To Agree In Kosovo Govt Talks

VIENNA (AP)--Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians failed to reach agreement Monday in another round of their yearlong series of U.N.-mediated talks aimed at determining whether the province will become independent.

The talks focused on how much say the Serb-run municipalities in Kosovo would have in education, health care, police and justice, as well as cooperation between them and Serbia.

"To some regret, I have to say that Belgrade and Pristina delegations in a number of areas reaffirmed their positions," said Bernhard Schlageck, a U.N. mediator at the talks.

However, Schlageck said that there was "some movement toward compromise" on the issue of the appointment of police chiefs in municipalities.

"I found it striking that there was some movement to close the gap on that very important issue," he said. "Apart from that, on the major stumbling blocks we made no distinctive progress at all."

Before solving Kosovo's status, U.N. mediators are currently trying to narrow differences between the two sides over how to ensure improved rights for minority Serbs remaining in the province after the war.

The province has been under U.N. control since a NATO air campaign ended the Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.

Ethnic Albanians argue for full independence and Serbia insists on keeping at least some control over the territory. The U.N. hopes to reach a final deal by the end of the year.

Leon Kojen, the leader of the Serbian delegation, said his side won't compromise on "the fundamental questions of education, health care, security, freedom of movement."

"Any attempt by (the ethnic Albanian) leadership or anybody else to deny such fundamental rights ... will be decisively rejected by Belgrade," he said after the meeting.

Kosovo's deputy prime minister, Lutfi Haziri, said deep differences remained. "We have absolutely different positions," Haziri said, accusing Serbia of opting for the division of communities.

Preliminary talks have focused on local government reform and ways to ensure that Serb religious sites are protected. Dozens of Serb Orthodox churches have been vandalized or destroyed by ethnic Albanians since the end of the war.

Ethnic Albanians make up about 90% of Kosovo's population of 2 million. An estimated 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, after about 200,000 Serbs and other minorities fled during and after the war.

The chief U.N. mediator in the talks, Martti Ahtisaari, brought together the presidents and prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia for the first face-to-face talks on the province's future status several weeks ago, but there was no concrete outcome.

Meanwhile, a London-based organization called Minority Rights Group International released a report Monday saying the treatment of minorities in Kosovo has worsened during the seven years of U.N. administration.

It blamed the U.N. and NATO's peacekeeping force for allowing the segregation of the province's ethnic communities, saying that by focusing on demands of the Serb minority, the international community has largely ignored the plight of groups, including Gypsies, or Roma.

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