Tuesday, September 26, 2006

U.S. diplomat urges negotiated solution for Kosovo by end of 2006

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - The United States supports a final solution for Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo by the end of this year, a senior U.S. diplomat said Tuesday, rejecting Serbian demands for more time to negotiate.

U.N.-mediated talks, which began in February, have stalled with both sides unwilling to compromise on their demands. Kosovo's leadership has demanded independence, while Serbia insists the province remain within its territory.

Though the United Nations wants to settle Kosovo's status by the end of the year, Serbian officials repeatedly have said no "artificial" deadlines should be set for Kosovo's final status.

"I have yet to hear any argument which demonstrates a delay would bring anything at all," said Daniel Fried, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs.

"Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999. We cannot go back. The status quo is inherently unstable," Fried told reporters. "We should strive for a negotiated settlement this year."

Kosovo -- where independence-seeking ethnic Albanians comprise 90 percent of the 2 million people -- has been an international protectorate since 1999, when NATO bombing forced Serbia to stop its crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanian separatists and handed over authority there to a U.N. mission and the alliance.

Fried also rejected Serbian officials' claims that independence for Kosovo would be set dangerous international precedent and trigger other secessionist movements in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe.

"Kosovo is not a precedent for anything," Fried said. "Its situation is unique, the solution whatever it is will be unique.

"I don't know what a decision on Kosovo will be, but it will not be a return to the past," Fried said.

While formally still part of Serbia, Kosovo could become an independent state if the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and Italy -- which are overseeing the U.N.-led talks -- agree to redraw Serbia's borders and accept the Kosovo leadership's demand for sovereignty.

Any decision by the so-called Contact Group on Kosovo's future status must be approved by the U.N. Security Council. While the Western states have appeared to be inclined to grant independence, Serbian ally Russia has hinted it may use its veto power in the council to block a decision.

Fried also urged Serbia to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic -- a precondition set by the European Union for the continuation of its pre-membership talks with the bloc.

"Mladic is an indicted war criminal and a coward who has been hiding behind the Serbian flag, which has a more noble history than that," Fried said. The wartime Bosnian Serb army commander was indicted in 1995 for genocide by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

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