World News

Talks resume on fate of Kosovo

VIENNA (Reuters) - Serbia holds fresh talks on Monday with Kosovo on the fate of the breakaway province with time running out before a December deadline for negotiations to end.

Envoys from the United States, Russia and the European Union are groping for compromise between Serbia’s offer of autonomy and the Kosovo Albanian demand for independence before reporting back to the United Nations by December 10.

There is no deal in sight, and Kosovo is threatening to declare independence once talks end.

On the table are 14 points of potential agreement drafted by the ‘troika’, and which Serbia has greeted with scepticism.

The document states that Belgrade “will not govern Kosovo” nor “re-establish a physical presence” in a province wrested from Serb control by NATO bombers in 1999.

Monday’s meeting in Vienna is the fourth since the latest bid for a deal began in August, forced by Serb and Russian opposition to a Western independence plan.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who is due to attend, raised the stakes last week when he overtly linked the fate of Kosovo with that of Bosnia, where Serbs say their autonomy since the 1992-95 war is under threat.

Analysts say he is trying to sow division among Western powers who have indicated they would recognize Kosovo statehood and are ready to ride the nationalist fallout in Serbia.

“We will respect the international agenda, the December 10 deadline,” Kosovo negotiator Hashim Thaci told reporters. “And quickly after that we will take the decision on independence.”

Thaci’s party is leading in polls ahead of a November 17 parliamentary election in Kosovo.

His negotiating colleague, Veton Surroi, said the troika’s 14 points represented the “framework for future relations between two states” - an interpretation shared by diplomats.

Kosovo, where 90 percent of the two million people are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians in a two-year war with guerrillas.

Moscow has blocked the U.N. adoption of a Western-backed plan to grant independence under EU supervision. Kosovo continues to be governed under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which affirms the sovereignty of then Yugoslavia, to which Serbia is the successor state.

But diplomats say Western capitals are working on a way around the document, to allow the EU to deploy a 1,800-strong police mission and for individual countries - led by the United States, Britain and France - to recognize the new state.

NATO allies with 16,000 troops on the ground fear Albanian frustration could turn to unrest.