03 April 2006

UN envoy presses Kosovo to protect minority Serbs

Reuters, 08 Mar 2006 01:22:20 GMT


UNITED NATIONS, March 7 (Reuters) - U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari urged Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority on Tuesday to quickly take steps to protect minority Serbs if it wants smooth negotiations on the province's future status.


"The progress has to start now," said Ahtisaari, who is guiding U.N.-backed negotiations on Kosovo's status, launched about four months ago but still in their early days.


While still legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when Serbian forces were driven out to halt what the West saw as Serb repression of Kosovo's Albanians.


The Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people, now want independence, but the Serb government in Belgrade is trying to hold on to the province by offering it considerable autonomy.


In preparation for the negotiations, the United Nations set out a series of standards on human rights, democratic institutions, ethnic tolerance and law enforcement the province had to meet to demonstrate it was ready for a change in status, including possible independence.


Ahtisaari, who was in New York on Tuesday to brief the Security Council on the progress of the talks, was asked whether Kosovo should have to implement all the standards before the status talks could begin.


He said he gave different weight to different standards, adding: "I would rather concentrate on those that are absolutely vital, where improvement absolutely has to take place. ... "There are certain standards like the protection of minorities and improvement in their lives that have to be improved now," he said.


He also renewed an appeal to Kosovo's Serbs to begin participating in the province's political life. "That is, too, a very important message that we are continually passing on to them," he said.