13 July 2007

Russian FM says no deadline for Kosovo status talks



BERLIN, February 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said Thursday a UN envoy for talks on Kosovo should not set a deadline for a final decision on the status for Serbia's Albanian-populated region.


Marti Ahtisaari, who has proposed that the Balkan province be given an internationally supervised sovereignty, has said talks are to end by March 10 after which the matter will return to the UN Security Council.


"It is not up to him to decide whether there is still time for making a decision or not," Sergei Lavrov told a news conference after a meeting with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Mr. Ahtisaari has been fulfilling a UN task, which is to mediate between the parties in the Kosovo conflict."


Lavrov also reiterated that Russia would not try to impose any decisions on Kosovars.


"A decision on Kosovo can only be adopted by the parties involved in the dispute themselves, nobody can impose it on them. Anyway, Russia will not be part of any such scheme," he said.


Belgrade and Pristina held talks on Ahtisaari's proposal in Vienna Wednesday, but no breakthrough was made.


Belgrade has rejected proposals to give independence to the region, which has been under a UN protectorate since 1999 after U.S. air raids conducted to end alleged ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops.


Serbian authorities say they are willing to grant Kosovo broad autonomy, but will never let the province secede from Serbia.


Albanian leaders have said Kosovo's independence is the only option for them.


Lavrov also said only provisions in the UN Kosovo resolution benefiting the Albanian population had been implemented thus far.


"It is no secret that the return of refugees to Kosovo and those ethnic minorities displaced has not taken place except for a minor group. 90% of Serbs, Gypsies and other minorities who once lived in Kosovo cannot return," he said.


The provision on a limited Serbian police force and border guards has not been implemented at all, the minister added.


Russia, a traditional ally of fellow Slavic Serbia and a veto wielding Security Council member, has been opposed to internationally backed plans to grant sovereignty to Kosovo, also arguing it would set a precedent for the breakaway regions in the former Soviet Union it is believed to support: Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moldova's Transdnestr.