The United States has promised to step up negotiations to resolve the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo, which is currently administered by the United Nations. As VOA's Brian Wagner reports, U.S. officials say the economic and political future of the region is dependent on ending the uncertainty.
The United States is hoping for a breakthrough on the disputed status of Kosovo during U.N.-sponsored talks this year, more than five years after war in the Serb province. State Department undersecretary Nicholas Burns told U.S. representatives Wednesday that more than Kosovo's future is at stake.
“And we believe that failure to address Kosovo's status in the near-term, risks undoing much os what we've achieved in the Balkans over the last 10 years,” says Nicholas Burns.
The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when NATO air strikes against Serbia ended a crackdown on Kosovo Albanians.
The key issue is whether Kosovo should remain part of Serbia or become autonomous. Kosovo's Albanian majority wants independence, which the Serbians have rejected.
Mr. Burns say a final resolution could come within a year. He says, “The country that holds the key to this solution is clearly Serbia-Montenegro. It's a government that must now negotiate very seriously with the governing authorities of Kosovo, the UN, the United States and others to pave the way to peace and a better future for the people of the region."
Those people include Serbs who want to stay and those who want to return there. Democratic Representative Tom Lantos of California says their status and other issues need resolution.
“The current status quo of limbo is not sustainable. And unless it is changed and changed clearly and resolutely, we will have renewed ethnic violence and the integration of Kosovo into Europe will be further delayed,” says Tom Lantos.
Violence has flared between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, including a clash last year that killed 19 Serbs. That happened despite local and international police, and 20-thousand NATO troops, 1,800 of them American.
Mira Ricardel is acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Defense. She says, “As Ambassador Burns has said and as President Bush says we go in together and out together. At the same time we wish to hasten the day when NATO can complete its mission in Kosovo as it has in Bosnia. That means building the capacities of local institutions such as the Kosovo police service to maintain law and order.”
The United Nations has spent almost six years trying to build institutions, such as police, in the absence of a political agreement. Later this month, talks are planned between Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his Kosovan counterpart, Bajram Kosumi, the first direct talks between the two governments since 1999.