17 December 2006

EU prepares to replace Kosovo U.N. mission

BRUSSELS, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The European Union is completing its preparations to replace a U.N. administration in Serbia's mainly ethnic-Albanian Kosovo province.

Quoting diplomats in Brussels, the Serbian Tanjug news agency reported the European Union will dispatch its judicial and police missions to Kosovo once U.N. administrators withdraw, probably in the first half of 2007.

The U.N. civilian mission and NATO protection troops have been deployed in Kosovo since 1999 to contain ethnic fighting.

Martti Ahtisaari, the chief U.N. envoy to talks on Kosovo's future status, is scheduled to announce who will govern the province late in January.

Shortly after a solution to Kosovo's future status is reached and announced, the European Union is expected to send about 1,300 officials to help local authorities in running the police, judiciary, prisons and customs, Tanjug said.

U.N.-led talks between the Serbian government in Belgrade and leaders of ethnic-Albanians in Kosovo began in February but have achieved no agreement.

Belgrade maintains Kosovo will always be an integral part of Serbia and the ethnic-Albanian leaders insist on independence from Belgrade.