Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Envoys at impasse on Kosovo

SKEPTICAL Officials are meeting to see if a compromise can be reached on Kosovo independence, while experts say a settlement will eventually have to be imposed

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LJUBLJANA

A month after talks on the future of Kosovo foundered at the UN Security Council, envoys from the US, the EU and Russia began a three-day visit to the region on Friday in an attempt to kick-start a new round of negotiations.

But politicians and diplomats in the region say they are skeptical that an agreement can be reached, leaving Western governments with the dilemma of whether or not to independently recognize the breakaway province as its own state -- without the endorsement of the Security Council.

Diplomats say new talks could lead to a compromise between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership, which wants independence, and the Serbian government in Belgrade, thereby bridging a substantial rift between Russia, Serbia's main ally, and Western governments over Kosovo's future.

Russia has rejected a UN plan that would have given Kosovo independence, though under the supervision of a European-led mission. Russia has threatened to veto the plan in the Security Council, and has insisted that any settlement must be supported by both the Serbs and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

Serbia is adamant that the province, which is now administered by the UN, remain a part of its territory.

The envoys met with Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica for more than an hour in Belgrade on Friday, but declined to speak to reporters afterward. They were scheduled to spend yesterday and today in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, has set a deadline of Dec. 10 to conclude the latest negotiations between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

HARDENED POSITIONS

Both sides are sticking to hardened positions. Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, yet Serbia -- which has sovereignty over Kosovo, though only in name -- says it is ready to give the region substantial autonomy, but not full independence.

However, speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Pristina, Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said,"Any proposal other than independence is unacceptable,"

This month, Serbia's foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, appeared to adopt a more conciliatory tone, saying his government was ready to compromise by offering Kosovo rights associated with sovereignty, like membership in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The UN has administered Kosovo since 1999, when Serbian forces -- who were accused of committing atrocities against ethnic Albanians -- were forced to leave Kosovo after a 78-day NATO-led bombing campaign. The arrangement ended a two-year conflict between Albanian insurgents and the government of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was the dominant part.

On Thursday, the EU's envoy Wolfgang Ischinger put the burden squarely on the two sides.

"We are offering Belgrade and Pristina another opportunity -- maybe the last opportunity -- to work out a negotiated solution," he told the BBC.

But some diplomats, who have been involved in the negotiations since they began in February of last year, say that ultimately a settlement will have to be imposed.

"There is nothing to negotiate," said a Western diplomat in Pristina, speaking on the condition of anonymity "There is no compromise to be found."

A stumbling block to an imposed settlement is that a number of European governments are unwilling to support a solution not supported by the UN.

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