Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Top UN envoy visits Kosovo for talks on future status

PRISTINA, Serbia, Aug 22, 2006 (AFP) -

Top UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari on Tuesday began a three-day visit here devoted to talks on the future status of the disputed province of Kosovo, in which Belgrade opposes ethnic Albanian demands for independence.

Upon arrival, Ahtisaari met with top representatives of the international community in the province, which has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, after a NATO bombing campaign ended Belgrade's offensive against Kosovo Albanian separatists.

Ethnic tensions remain high as ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, want to break away from Belgrade which considers the province part of the Serbian state.

Ahtisaari's new diplomatic visit to resolve the standoff between Pristina and Belgrade comes after nine rounds of technical talks between the two sides. It is the first visit since frosty high-level talks broke down last month.

The talks between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders, which went on in Vienna for several months, have failed so far to produce a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of the province's future status, as the two sides remained entrenched in their rival positions.

The international community has said it hopes to have a solution on the territory's future status before the end of the year.

During this week's visit Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, is expected to meet Kosovo Albanian and Serb leaders and to visit on Thursday the troublesome north of the province, where the Serb majority in June declared a state of emergency and broke off relations with Kosovo authorities.

The move was seen as a precursor to a bid to partition the province.

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