Friday, September 30, 2005

UN envoy to back talks on Kosovo status-leading to independence?

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 28 (Reuters) - U.N. special envoy Kai Eide will next week recommend the start of U.N.-mediated talks to determine the final status of Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province, a European diplomat said on Wednesday.

Eide, in a report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expected next week, will recommend that Annan give a green light to negotiations likely leading to Kosovo's conditional independence, the diplomat said.

"This is a question of managing a process towards conditional independence," said the diplomat, who was briefed on the report's findings but spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss it.

The United Nations, which has administered the province of 2 million people since the Balkan wars of the 1990s, has set out a list of standards on human rights, security, law and democracy that Kosovo must show it is trying to meet before the issue of its eventual status can be taken up.

Eide's report will recommend that the final status talks begin even though Kosovo's interim administration has not done as well on the standards as had been hoped, the diplomat said.

It will ultimately be up to Annan to decide when to publicly release Eide's findings, and then whether Kosovo has made enough progress on the standards for the talks to start.

Kosovo's U.N. governor, Soren Jessen-Petersen, said this week he expected Annan to present his conclusions to the U.N. Security Council in mid-October. "I'm now very convinced that by the end of the year ... status talks will be under way," he told reporters in Pristina, the provincial capital.

But Eide's expected recommendations come as no surprise although they are likely to trigger protests from the Serbian government in Belgrade. While Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority is increasingly impatient for independence, Serbia says this is impossible.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said this week in Paris that he expected the final status talks to begin later this year, based on Eide's review.

"To say this will be a delicate process is an understatement. Not only do Belgrade and Pristina hold diametrically opposing views. Both also lack a stable political leadership, able to make tough decisions," Solana told a conference in Paris on Monday.

The United Nations took over running Kosovo after a 1999 NATO bombing campaign to halt Serb repression of its ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population.

Tens of thousands of Serbs then fled the province to escape Albanians bent on revenge for Belgrade's harsh rule, and Belgrade now argues Kosovo's provisional government is doing too little to encourage Serbs to return home and protect those who have already done so.

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