Friday, September 08, 2006

UN says time for concessions in Kosovo talks

VIENNA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The United Nations told Serbia on Friday the time had come to make concessions in talks on the future of its breakaway province of Kosovo, after seven months of near fruitless discussion.

U.N. deputy envoy Albert Rohan made the appeal after the latest round of direct talks between Serbia and leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority in Vienna. The West wants a deal this year, with the Albanians pushing for independence.

"The bad news is that not much progress has been achieved," Rohan told a news conference. "We have discussed everything, and the time for concessions has come."

The two-day meeting focused on self-government for the Serb minority and protection for Kosovo's rich Serb Orthodox religious heritage -- so-called technical issues that have dominated discussion so far.

Rohan said the Albanians had "really moved" on these issues. "The same is unfortunately not the case with the other party."

Legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing in a two-year war with separatist guerrillas.

Some 10,000 Albanians died and 800,000 were expelled. A wave of revenge attacks after the war saw around half the Serb population flee. The 100,000 who stayed feel marginalised and under threat, targeted by sporadic violence.

Under pressure to prove their commitment to minority rights, Kosovo Albanian negotiators have dug deep to offer Serbs the institutional guarantees of a better life, diplomats say.

But Belgrade is demanding more.

Western diplomats say some form of independence for Kosovo is likely, with or without Serbian consent.

In the absence of agreement, chief envoy Martti Ahtisaari hopes to at least have a framework for how to improve life for the 100,000 remaining Serbs and protect scores of Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries.

U.N. officials say the technical talks are stuck on the number, size and powers of proposed new Serb municipalities, and Belgrade's role in supporting them.

"There were a number of minor advances, but no big leap," said Rohan.

Ahtisaari leaves next week for a series of meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York. Sources close to his office say the former Finnish president will make his proposal by November.

The Vienna talks resume on September 15.

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