Wednesday, September 13, 2006

US, EU Officials Want Kosovo's Status Resolved This Year

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP)--Visiting U.S. and European Union officials want Kosovo's status to be resolved through negotiations this year, they said Wednesday, even though there has been little progress so far in the U.N.-led talks.

The next round of talks, meanwhile, will be held Friday in Vienna, Austria.

U.S. State Department official Rosemary DiCarlo and E.U. envoy Stefan Lehne asked for more flexibility from Pristina and Belgrade in the talks. They added ethnic Albanians in the U.N.-run province should provide more guarantees that the Serb minority will be protected from violence and discrimination.

Washington is committed to reaching a negotiated solution "within this year," Dicarlo told reporters in a joint news conference with President Fatmir Sejdiu.

For his part, Lehne said "the progress of recent weeks is promising but more should be done for minorities."

U.N. mediators have been trying to narrow differences between the two sides over how Kosovo should be run in the future. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insists on independence, but the Serb minority and Belgrade both want Serbia to retain some control over the province.

The unresolved issues have already been discussed between the ethnic Albanian and Serbian delegations in U.N.-mediated talks held last month in Vienna, Austria, but no agreements have been reached.

Last month, Kosovo Serbs boycotted a round of talks on minority rights, saying they wouldn't accept being treated as a minority group, as they considered themselves citizens of Serbia, where they are in the majority.

Within Kosovo, however, ethnic Albanians make up some 90% of the 2 million population, while most Serbs live in small, isolated enclaves scattered around the province. Tens of thousands of Serbs fled during the 1999 NATO-led air war to end Serb troops' crackdown on ethnic Albanians seeking independence. The U.N. has administered Kosovo since 1999.

Serbia, meanwhile, toughened its stance on Kosovo Tuesday when its parliament decided a planned new constitution would refer to the disputed province as an "integral" part of Serbia, regardless of U.N.-led negotiations on whether to grant it independence.

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