DATELINE: BRUSSELS, Nov 8 2006
Kosovo's future status should be legally and politically clear so the separatist Serbian region can sign agreements with the European Union, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Wednesday."The precise contents and concept of the future status should be legally and politically a clear status so that Kosovo would have especially treaty-making powers, for instance, with the EU," Rehn said.Such an outcome would allow the EU and Kosovo to negotiate a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step to EU membership, he told reporters after the publication of annual reports on EU membership hopefuls.It would also allow for EU-Kosovo negotiations on visa agreements.A status settlement "will give further impetus for the Kosovo authorities to progress on the reforms that are needed in the key areas of the rule of law, economy, and public administration," the Commission said in its report."Minority rights remain a vital issue, as is the participation of minorities in Kosovo's institutions," it added.Serbia has its own SAA agreement with the EU but it has been frozen until Belgrade improves its cooperation with the United Nations war crimes court.The UN's special envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish leader Martti Ahtisaari, has been in negotiations with Serb and Kosovo officials in a bid to define the status of the breakaway province, inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians.Ahtisaari is expected, before the end of the year, to present the UN with recommendations on Kosovo's future, after eight months of talks faltered between the Serbian government and leaders of the province's ethnic-Albanian majority.Media reports have suggested that he will propose offering limited sovereignty.However UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a newspaper interview over the weekend that the talks on the future of Kosovo could drag on into 2007."Ahtisaari must be careful that the issue of the final status of Kosovo is not used for electoral purposes," Annan said, referring to the Serbian government's plan to hold an early general election in December.And on Monday the United States indicated it would agree to pushing back the end-of-year deadline.The Serbian government opposed independence for Kosovo and recently called on Ahtisaari to stand down, accusing him of seeking to impose a predetermined solution before the end of negotiations.Kosovo has been managed by the UN since 1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign halted a crackdown by Serbian forces against Kosovo's separatist Albanian rebels.