Mon, Aug 13, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Troika talks focus on ethnic Albanians in Serbia, Kosovo

AP , PRISTINA, SERBIA

Envoys from the US, the EU and Russia were working with a sense of urgency to help Serbia and Kosovo's independence-seeking ethnic Albanians find common ground on the province's future, one diplomat said on Saturday.

The diplomats -- known as the troika -- are in the region to reopen talks after Russia threatened to block a Western-backed plan to grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence in the UN Security Council. Both sides in the talks have expressed doubt an agreement will be reached.

US diplomat Frank Wisner said he, the EU's Wolfgang Ischinger and Russia's Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko will not present the parties with proposals on Kosovo's future, but they will mediate between the former foes.

"We have a sense of urgency," Wisner said. "Peace is important and all of us are committed to it."

There is concern in the West and the region that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders, increasingly frustrated by setbacks and delays, might unilaterally declare independence, throwing the Balkans into new turmoil.

Kosovo's negotiators gave the diplomats a list of eight negotiating points and pledged to work with them. But they also called for a conclusion to the search for a solution for Kosovo.

"Kosovo's independence is the political will of Kosovo's people and it is not negotiable," the province's leaders said in the letter. "Kosovo's territorial integrity is untouchable and not negotiable."

The talks, slated to last 120 days, are to be followed by a report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Dec. 10.

But, as the latest effort -- the second in as many years -- got under way, negotiators on both sides remained adamant they would not fall back from their positions.

"This is a good beginning for what is obviously not a very easy mission for the troika," Ischinger said.

The ethnic Albanian majority demands independence from Belgrade, while Serbia wants to keep the province under its control.

Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, although it has been under UN and NATO administration since the end of the 1998-99 war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serb forces.

Albanian leaders warned before the talks that they would walk out if their quest for independence was put in doubt.

In Belgrade, the diplomats pledged to look at every angle in their efforts to find a compromise solution, despite Serbian President Boris Tadic's insistence Kosovo not be allowed to secede.

Yearlong talks led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari failed to produce an agreement. Ahtisaari, acting as an envoy for the UN, proposed Kosovo should become independent but retain an international presence to guarantee the rights of the Serb minority.

The US and EU member states are now trying new negotiations through the so-called Contact Group -- an advisory body comprised of the US, Britain, Russia, Germany, France and Italy.

Russia's Botsan-Kharchenko said the envoys will facilitate the talks to enable the UN Security Council to endorse a compromise solution "in the frame of international law."

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