12 July 2007

Serbians, Kosovo Albanians meet for final round of Kosovo talks

Agence France Presse, 21 février 2007 12:54


VIENNA, Feb 21, 2007 (AFP)


Serbians and Kosovo Albanians met Wednesday in Vienna for a final round of talks with UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari over his plan for Kosovo's future, although hopes for a compromise solution were almost nil.


The talks are expected to continue until March 1, after which Ahtisaari will present the final draft of his proposal on March 10 in Vienna, diplomatic sources said.


But few held out any hope that the southern Serbian province's ethnic Albanian majority will strike any deal with the Serbian government or water down their demands for full independence.


Ahtisaari's Kosovo plan, published on February 2, would give Kosovo all the trappings of statehood -- self-government, its own flag and anthem, and membership of international organisations.


It stops short of granting full independence but Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership has welcomed the proposal as vindication of their stance that independence is inevitable some time in the near future.


Belgrade meanwhile insists that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbian territory, the cradle of Serbian culture and religion, and has angrily rejected Ahtisaari's right to meddle in its sovereign affairs.


Under the envoy's plan, Kosovo's government would be overseen by a new European Union-led mission which would take over from the UN, which has administered the province since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999.


The UN envoy is expected to submit his plan to the UN Security Council in mid-March.


"These consultations are one more opportunity for both parties to make their points," Ahtisaari told the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Tuesday.


"I am willing to consider constructive amendments and to incorporate compromise agreements," he said.


The Kosovo team in Vienna was led by moderate opposition leader Veton Surroi, Ahtisaari spokesman Remi Dourlot told AFP. Advisers of Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica represented the Serbian side.


But almost a year since the start of negotiations between Belgrade and Kosovo Albanians in Vienna, Ahtisaari said he was "pessimistic" they could compromise over the future of the tiny territory.


"It regrettably appears highly unlikely that the two parties will be able to reach a compromise on the Kosovo status," he said.


Kosovo Serbs and Albanians remain bitterly divided after the brutal bloodshed of the 1998-1999 war, when Serbian forces battled ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas and their civilian supporters.


The Serb minority now lives in isolated enclaves under constant threat of reprisals from ethnic Albanian extremists. The flashpoint northern town of Mitrovica is divided along ethnic lines with NATO peacekeepers in the middle.


Belgrade's last hope may be its traditional ally Russia, after President Vladimir Putin said last week he would oppose Ahtisaari's plan in the Security Council if it did not have Serbia's backing.


The Serbian parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to condemn the plan as a violation of the country's territorial integrity.


"We want to be constructive in Vienna, but there will be of course no compromise related to the preservation of our national interest in Kosovo," Tadic's adviser Vuk Jeremic said.


Pristina meanwhile "doesn't see any space for further compromises with Belgrade," Skender Hyseni, the spokesman for the Kosovo negotiating team, said.