Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Kosovo solution still out of reach

DEADLINEThe mediation 'troika' of the EU, the US and Russia has until Dec. 10 to complete their final attempts to find an acceptable compromise between the two sides

AFP , UNITED NATIONS

Serbia and Kosovo's Albanian leaders on Friday failed to narrow their differences in the first direct talks at the UN on the breakaway province's future status but agreed to meet again in Brussels next month.

"We will have our next meeting with both parties in Brussels on Oct. 14," said German mediator Wolfgang Ischinger, a member of the troika composed of the EU, Russia and the US mediating the talks.

The troika has until Dec. 10 to complete their last-ditch effort to find a compromise acceptable to both sides of the conflict, with the separatist Kosovo leaders threatening to declare independence unilaterally.

Serbs and ethnic Albanian separatist leaders stuck to their respective positions in Friday's direct talks at the EU liaison office, but agreed on the way forward in a document entitled "the New York declaration."

After the meeting, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica expressed disappointment.

"I must say that I am a bit disappointed because this is the second round of talks that has happened in two years," he told a press conference. "I'm afraid the other [side] is encouraged by some countries, mostly the United States, not to negotiate, feeling quite secure because it can be granted its independence."

Kostunica blamed the US for the stalemate, accusing Washington of pushing for months for Kosovo independence, even if it means recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo's majority Albanians, who comprise 90 percent of the territory's population.

Kosovo, which legally remains a province of Serbia, has been run by a UN mission since NATO forced Belgrade-backed troops to withdraw in 1999, ending a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

In a joint statement on Thursday, members of the six-nation contact group on Kosovo -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the US -- said they endorsed UN chief Ban Ki-moon's assessment that "the status quo is not sustainable."

"It has damaging consequences for Kosovo's political, social and economic development and for the underlying stability of the region. A solution therefore has to be found without delay," the statement said.

The two sides "need to engage with the troika [of mediators] with a constructive spirit," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

In Thursday's talks, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated US backing for the three mediators, State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said.

"She stressed that the troika process is not open-ended," and will end on Dec. 10, he said.

The direct talks, part of a process that began in August after the Security Council failed to agree on UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's blueprint for Kosovo's supervised independence, are a last-ditch attempt to bridge the differences between the parties.

Troika members -- Ischinger, US diplomat Frank Wisner and Russian envoy Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko -- are to report to Ban on the outcome of the negotiating process by Dec. 10.

"We prefer a solution through the Security Council but we are also prepared to offer and make the final solution by ourselves. This process can lead us to making a unilateral declaration of independence," Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said before flying to New York for the talks.

The issue has split the EU, while the US openly backs independence and Serbian ally Russia insists it will not support any unilateral solution that might send a bad signal to separatists elsewhere around the world.

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