|NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, left, meets Danish troops serving in KFOR in Kosovo province|
A U.S. official has testified that the Bush administration is embarking on a new diplomatic drive to resolve the final status of Serbia's province of Kosovo, which remains under U.N. administration. Remarks by U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns came in a congressional hearing Wednesday.
Kosovo has been in a state of suspension for six years as the United States and European Union considered its future, and 17,500 NATO soldiers preserved a fragile peace under United Nations mandate.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 12-44 in 1999 directed that Kosovo's final status should be worked out through negotiations.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says the administration now considers it vital that the question of whether Kosovo becomes independent, a province of Serbia and Montenegro, or is partitioned be resolved.
"The status quo of Kosovo's undefined status is no longer sustainable, desirable or acceptable," he said. "It doesn't satisfy any of the parties or any of the people of the region, and it does leave open the possibility of renewed ethnic violence. And we believe that failure to address Kosovo's status in the near term risks undoing much of what we have achieved in the Balkans over the last 10 years."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is sending Mr. Burns back to the region early next month.
He says the United States supports a process in which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will appoint a Norwegian diplomat to assess Kosovo's readiness for final status talks, after which senior U.S. and European negotiators would take over.
Some lawmakers who have criticized what they called Bush administration foot-dragging on Kosovo don't see a need for these steps.
"What's to negotiate, what's to determine? The people of Kosovo have a right to determine their own future through the ballot box just as every other group of people in this world," said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who is a California Republican on the committee. "There is nothing to determine there. Either we are Americans and we believe that or we don't."
In 2004, ethnic violence in Kosovo left eight Serbs and 11 Albanians dead, and a 1,000 people injured.
Mr. Burns says the focus in moving forward must be on ethnic harmony, adding there must not be a repeat of ethnic cleansing in 1999 in which thousands of majority Albanians were killed in a campaign allegedly directed by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
"The United States went into Kosovo in March 1999 to protect the Albanian population from the ethnic cleansing of Milosevic and his forces," he said. "We must not now permit a situation where the majority inflicts that kind of punishment on the minority population because the only way forward is through ethnic reconciliation and ethnic harmony among the major population groups and we are committed to that."
Mr. Burns says Serbia should close the dark chapter of the 1990s by finding and extraditing Serbian General Ratko Mladic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, adding that Washington is stepping up pressure on the Bosnian government to do the same regarding Radovan Karadzic.
The congressional hearing took place about a week before the U.N. Security Council is to discuss Kosovo's final status, and amid reports of planned meetings between Serbian and Kosovo government leaders next week.