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UN Security Council still divided over Kosovo

RIA Novosti

10/10/2007 11:32 UNITED NATIONS, October 10 (RIA Novosti) - The 15-nation UN Security Council once again failed to agree on a possible plan of action if negotiations between Serbia and its breakaway province of Kosovo produce no result by December 10.

The Kosovo-Serbia negotiations are mediated by Russia, the European Union and the United States. In spring, Russia, a traditional ally of Belgrade and also a UN Security Council permanent member, vetoed a draft resolution by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, which proposed internationally supervised independence for the predominantly Albanian province.

Following closed consultations in the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Russia's UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said he did not consider the December 10 deadline set for Belgrade-Pristina talks to be a final date. On that day, the mediators, known as the Contact Group, are to report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the results of 120-day negotiations.

"One should not have the impression that somehow December 10th is necessarily the end of the world as far as the negotiating process is concerned," he said.

Churkin said Moscow saw other possible ways of dealing with the situation after the deadline - by extending the Contact Group's mandate or granting it a new mandate. He reiterated Russia's position that a final resolution must suit both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, and that talks should not be restricted by any deadlines.

The Russian diplomat's comments were rejected by Joachim Ruecker, the UN mission chief in Kosovo, and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, who said December 10 was a final date, and that any further delays would upset stability in Kosovo where the ethnic Albanian majority insists on independence. Kosovo Albanians have threatened to proclaim independence unilaterally if the talks fail.

Khalilzad said the situation could be resolved differently but did not specify how. Both the U.S. and the EU back Kosovo's independence, while Russia has strongly opposed sovereignty for Kosovo, saying it would set a dangerous precedent. Serbia's offer of broad autonomy for Kosovo has so far been rejected.

Last week, the UN chief called on the Security Council to work out a strategy to be pursued if the ongoing negotiations on Kosovo prove to be futile.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku and Serbian President Boris Tadic met face-to-face for the first time in New York in September, but restricted themselves to general declarations and voiced no new ideas.

The next round of negotiations is due in Brussels October 14, about a month before local elections in Kosovo scheduled for November 17.

UN mission chief Ruecker said the Serb minority in Kosovo must vote, and called on Belgrade not to encourage them to boycott the polls.

Russia's Churkin in turn said Moscow was concerned that no conditions had been provided for safe return of Serbian refugees to the province, which has been a UN protectorate since NATO's 1999 bombing campaign that ended a conflict between Serb troops and Albanian separatists.

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