Wednesday, September 13, 2006

UN aide warns against delay in Kosovo status talks

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Delays in talks on whether Kosovo should win independence or remain a part of Serbia would only aggravate tensions in the region, the breakaway province's U.N. governor warned on Wednesday.

U.N.-backed negotiations on Kosovo's future status began in February and U.N. officials hope to wrap them up by the end of this year. But the two sides have so far fiercely resisted compromise, raising fears the talks could drag on.

"We can expect emotions occasionally to spill over when something so vital to people's interests is being determined. But I believe the tensions and difficulties arising from delay in this process would be even greater," Joachim Ruecker, Kosovo's latest administrator, told the U.N. Security Council.

"Delay will not bring reconciliation. Delay will not lead to economic recovery. Delay will only prolong the tensions existing in Kosovo society, which will feed frustration and make the new start, when it does come, even harder to get right," he said.

Ruecker addressed the council a day after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pressed Serbia and Kosovo to be more flexible in their talks so a deal could be reached.

"It is the responsibility of the parties to find common ground and a sustainable solution, acceptable to both sides," Annan said in his latest progress report on the course of the "final status" negotiations.

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999 following a NATO bombing campaign that drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing. Ninety percent of the southern Serb province's 2 million people are ethnic Albanians.

U.N.-brokered talks are under way to determine whether Kosovo will remain part of Serbia, as sought by the government in Belgrade, or become independent, as the vast majority of Kosovo's residents insist.

But there has been little hint of progress in the process, which has focused so far on the rights and security of the 100,000 Serbs still living in Kosovo.

"All possible efforts should be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006," U.S. envoy Jackie Sanders told the council. "Delay in resolving Kosovo's status benefits neither side and creates further instability."

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