Monday, October 16, 2006

Year-end elections good timetable for Serbia-Solana

LUXEMBOURG, Oct 16 (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday he hoped Serbia would hold early elections by the end of the year but the United Nations said it was committed to a decision on Kosovo's final status by then.

Serbian President Boris Tadic pleaded last week for a postponement of the U.N. final status proposal for the breakaway province, which is likely to lead to its independence from Belgrade, saying it was better to have elections first.

But U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari, who must present a proposal on Kosovo's final status to the United Nations, said he remained committed to the year-end timeframe set by the Contact Group of big powers overseeing the diplomacy. "They haven't changed their line," he said ahead of talks with EU officials in Luxembourg. "It means I will have to be in the Security Council well before the end of the year.

"As long as I don't hear otherwise, this is the timetable I am going to stick to."

Speaking ahead of talks in Luxembourg with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Solana said he hoped for confirmation of the timetable for Serbian elections, widely expected in December.

"I hope the election may take place before the end of the year," he told reporters.

Solana declined to comment on Kosovo, saying that was being handled by Ahtisaari. But asked if he feared violence, he said: "I have no doubt it will be resolved in a peaceful manner."


Ahtisaari was asked if the United Nations would impose a solution for Kosovo if the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians were unable to reach an agreement.

"Anyone in their right mind would always prefer a negotiated settlement," he said, "but if that is not possible then some proposals have to be put to the parties and the Security Council."

EU foreign ministers were expected to support Ahtisaari when they meet on Monday and Tuesday in Luxembourg and are set to warn parties against any attempt to delay the process.

Some EU diplomats have said it would make sense to allow a few weeks' slippage for the conclusion of the final status process to accommodate the Serbian election.

But since all Serbian parties are equally opposed to relinquishing sovereignty over the province, British and U.S. officials argue there is no point in dragging out the process.

Solana highlighted economic progress in Serbia but said reopening of suspended talks on closer ties with the European Union remained dependent on Belgrade's cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

But chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said on Monday she had seen no progress in Serbia towards catching major war crime suspects, such as Ratko Mladic.

Asked as she arrived for talks with EU ministers if she had seen any reason for encouragement, Del Ponte said: "No, absolutely not, nothing." (Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander and Paul Taylor)

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