Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Kosovo may be split in two: diplomats

DEADLINE The troika has been given until December to try to reach a compromise, but Serbian leaders have insisted that their territorial integrity must be respected

AFP , PRISTINA

International mediators seeking a deal over Kosovo's status stressed on Sunday that they were open to any possibility, including dividing the Serbian province between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.

"It is the principle of the troika to be prepared to endorse any agreement both parties manage to achieve," German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger told reporters in Pristina when asked about a possible split.

"That includes all options. If they [the negotiating parties] want to pursue any options, that is fine with us."

Ischinger and his two fellow international envoys -- the "troika" -- on Sunday ended their first round of talks in Belgrade and Pristina on reaching a deal on Kosovo's future status, with little apparent progress.

They have been given until December to try to reach a compromise between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of some two million residents and who want independence, and Serbia, which strongly opposes it.

They were given their mission by the International Contact Group, set up to deal with problems arising from the break-up of Yugoslavia, after Russian opposition to independence blocked the issue in the UN Security Council.

The contact group had previously ruled out dividing Kosovo and after talks in Pristina on Saturday Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said that ethnic Albanians wanted independence with the UN-administered province's "current borders."

The Serbian leadership, which met with the troika in Belgrade on Friday, has insisted on respecting the territorial integrity of Serbia.

The envoys are Ischinger, representing the EU, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko for Russia and Frank Wisner for the US.

On Saturday, Botsan-Kharchenko said he was under "no illusions" about the difficulty of their mission.

Kosovo has been administered by the UN since 1999, when NATO bombing ended a bloody Serbian crackdown on the Kosovo Albanian separatist movement.

Some 16,000 NATO-led troops are currently stationed in Kosovo tasked with ensuring security in the region.

Kosovo leaders have warned of renewed violence in the region if independence is further delayed and in an interview broadcast on Sunday the commander of NATO forces there called for a quick solution.

German General Roland Kather told Deutschlandfunk radio in an interview that ethnic Albanians and Kosovo's Serbian minority were in limbo.

"The people need this decision to have clarity about their future," he said.

The province's status was only a secondary priority for most Kosovo Albanians, he said.

"People are busy taking care of their daily lives, seeking work, feeding their families," he said.

According to Kosovo's Daily Express newspaper, Serb and Kosovo Albanian delegations will hold new talks with the troika at the end of August in Vienna, although the two camps are unlikely to meet face-to-face.

Discussions over Kosovo's future status at the Security Council focused on a plan by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari for internationally supervised independence.

This was backed by the US and most Western countries but opposed by Serbia and its traditional ally Russia.

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