UN head hopes new Kosovo talks will produce agreement

119.jpgUN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced hope Wednesday (August 1st) that Contact Group representatives will help forge a deal that will end the current political deadlock over Kosovo status.

The six-nation group — made up of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States — decided last week to set up a troika of EU, US and Russian envoys to mediate negotiations between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials.

“I welcome this initiative by the Contact Group,” Ban said in a statement Wednesday. “I hope that the new period of engagement will lead to agreement on Kosovo’s future status, which remains a priority for the United Nations.”

He said he had been briefed by the Contact Group on the modalities for the new talks, but did not elaborate.

Speaking on the sidelines of an Asian security meeting in Manila on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the talks were likely to kick off “around the middle of the month of August”.

Representatives of the six nations decided on the troika format of negotiations just days after the latest Western-sponsored draft resolution on Kosovo was shelved in the face of a potential Russian veto at the UN Security Council.

Russia has been threatening to block any resolution that is unacceptable to Belgrade, which opposes former UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s plan for supervised independence. On Wednesday, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Kosovo could be given “the widest possible autonomy in the world” short of statehood. Serbia is prepared to forfeit some of its prerogatives regarding the province, he said, but cannot accept independence.

“We are ready to give up a lot, but they should be ready to give up some things too,” Jeremic said. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who make up 90% of the province’s population, are strongly in favour of full independence. Fourteen months of talks last year failed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

Pledging that the UN would continue “to play a constructive role” in the upcoming talks, Ban stressed the need for a settlement.

“The international community must find a solution that is timely, addresses the key concerns of all communities living in Kosovo and provides clarity for Kosovo’s status,” the UN chief said. “The status quo is not sustainable,” he added.

Ban also said he expects the Contact Group to report to him on the results of the new talks “by December 10th”.

Echoing Ban’s words, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also stressed the need for the issue of Kosovo’s final status to be resolved soon to thwart potential violence in the region.

“Europe, in particular the Balkans, needs some resolution to this issue,” Bloomberg news agency quoted him as saying. “The unfinished business of Kosovo must be settled sooner rather than later… We cannot afford to have a political limbo in the middle of this continent. We have seen before what that can bring.”

Reiterating Washington’s support for Ahtisaari’s plan, US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said on Wednesday that a settlement would “allow the entire region to move beyond the conflicts of the 1990s and towards a brighter Euro-Atlantic future”.

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