10 November 2006

Serbia's PM criticizes U.N. mediator for Kosovo, rejects timeframe for concluding talks

Associated Press, Thursday, October 19, 2006 12:39 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia-Serbia's prime minister said Thursday that mediation by the U.N. envoy for the troubled province of Kosovo had failed, and he rejected plans for talks on the province's future to be concluded by the end of the year.

Vojislav Kostunica criticized Martti Ahtisaari, the U.N. mediator in the ongoing international talks, for comments he made Wednesday dismissing suggestions, including some from European Union officials, that the negotiations could continue beyond the end of 2006.

"A solution to the problem of Kosovo must be an agreed one, not an imposed one," Kostunica said after a Cabinet meeting.

"Ahtisaari's mission is a failure," said the prime minister, who has repeatedly questioned the U.N. envoy's impartiality in the negotiating process.

Kosovo is formally a part of Serbia, but has been under U.N. and NATO control since 1999, when a NATO-led aerial bombardment forced Serbia to halt a government crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels who had been fighting for independence since 1998.

The province's ethnic Albanian majority insists it be granted full independence, but Kosovo's dwindling Serb minority wants Belgrade to retain some control.

Kostunica stressed his opposition to Kosovo becoming an independent state.

Talks began earlier this year to try to resolve Kosovo's future. Belgrade's offer of broad autonomy has been rejected by the Kosovo Albanians, who demand a complete secession and full sovereignty.

The provisional deadline of the end of the year to conclude the talks has been set by the six-nation Contact Group for Kosovo, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Italy, which oversee the negotiations.

On Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the talks could be delayed because Serbia plans in the meantime to hold a referendum on a new constitution and early general elections. Kosovo's ethnic Albanians oppose any delay.

Kostunica also urged voters to come out in large numbers at the Oct. 28-29 referendum to approve the document whose key point is stressing that the southern province is an "integral" part of Serbia.

"We need a sustainable solution for Kosovo, we need stability in the region without a redrawing of borders," he said.