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Kosovo Talks Enter Final Phase; March Deadline Set

21 February 2007

U.S. envoy says U.N. plan offers best conclusion to Yugoslav wars of 1990s

Washington – Talks to determine the future status of Kosovo entered their final phase February 21 in Vienna, Austria, where a U.S. diplomat said a settlement developed by the United Nations offers the best solution to end years of ethnic conflict.

“After years of uncertainty, it is now time for us to resolve the last major unsettled issues related to the breakup of Yugoslavia,” U.S. representative Kyle Scott told U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari at the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a major regional diplomatic forum. Scott is the chargé d’affairs for the U.S. mission to the 56-nation OSCE.

Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, on February 2 proposed that Kosovo govern itself democratically and be allowed to make international agreements while remaining, at least temporarily, under international supervision. Kosovo, a province of Serbia, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO-led military campaign drove out Yugoslav Serb forces after escalating violence and human-rights abuses. (See related article.)

Talks involving authorities from Pristina, the seat of government for Kosovo, and Belgrade, Serbia, began February 21 in Vienna and are expected to continue until March 2, with a final review meeting March 10 before Ahtisaari makes his formal recommendation to the U.N. Security Council by the end of March.

Ethnic Kosovar Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million people, seek independence. Serbia has centuries of deep cultural ties to Kosovo, where an epic battle in June 1389 played a defining role for Serbia’s people. Today, many of Serbia’s most important religious and cultural shrines lie in Kosovo. NATO-led security forces continue to protect Serbian communities and cultural sites, and NATO leaders say they will play a continuing security role during the settlement process.

The United States believes Ahtisaari has “fashioned a proposal that will lay the foundations for a Kosovo that is viable and stable,” Scott said at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on February 20. The proposal would create a Kosovo “where members of all communities – in particular the Kosovo Serb community – can live a dignified, safe and economically sustainable life; and where those who today are still outside Kosovo can return safely.”

Scott told Ahtisaari that the “status-quo” of an internationally administered Kosovo is “simply unsustainable, and your proposal represents the best, and indeed perhaps the only, way forward.”

Although international parties are assisting with the negotiations, it is up to authorities from Kosovo and Serbia to reach a lasting agreement, Scott said.

“[W]e recognize that the parties themselves bear ultimate responsibility for brining this chapter of Balkan history to a peaceful close,” Scott said. Kosovo and Serbia face “stark” choices -- to “accept and embrace a European future” or “to cling to the disastrous policies of the past,” he said.

“We should not play God and solve the problems for them. But nor should we ignore our responsibility to prevent the region from descending into new conflict.”

Meeting with reporters February 21, Ahtisaari acknowledged that negotiators from Kosovo and Serbia remain far apart on their positions.

However, he said, further delays to the settlement process could lead to widespread violence. On February 10, pro-independence demonstrators clashed with U.N. police in Pristina, and two protesters died as a result of injuries from rubber bullets fired by U.N. security forces. The U.N. police commissioner in Kosovo resigned following the clash. On February 19, a pro-independence group claimed responsibility for a blast that destroyed three U.N. vehicles in Pristina.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Pristina February 15 and warned that the NATO-led Kosovo Force would not tolerate violence.

“If there are people in Kosovo who think that inciting violence could be the answer, they are wrong,” de Hoop Scheffer said, according to the Southeast European Times. “And [Kosovo Force] will prove they’re wrong.”

For additional information on U.S. policy, see Southeast Europe.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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