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US Envoy Says Upcoming Kosovo Talks Face High Hurdles


United States Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns Tuesday outlined the likely shape of international negotiations to determine the final status of Kosovo, the Albanian-populated but still nominally Serbian province that has been administered by the United Nations since 1999. Mr. Burns appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The talks will be led by Maarti Ahtisaari, the retired Finnish president who was a key figure in the negotiations that ended the war in Kosovo over six years ago. The Finnish envoy, who was in Washington last week, will be based in Vienna and is expected to make two fact-finding missions to the region before the end of the year.

Mr. Burns, who visited the former Yugoslavia only three weeks ago, said the United States, the European Union, and Russia are in agreement as to the shape of the negotiations. The talks will determine whether Kosovo is to achieve independence or remain attached to Serbia.

Kosovo's population of two million is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and is united in seeking independence.

Mr. Burns told a U.S. Senate panel the international parties agree that several elements frame the negotiations: that there must be a return of the mostly Serb refugees from the war, minority rights must be guaranteed and there will be decentralized decision making. He said there will be no union of an independent Kosovo with Albania, and no partition of the province.

The negotiations, says Mr. Burns, place a heavy burden on the often feuding Albanian politicians in Kosovo.

"They have to assure the minority population that there is a future for that minority population," he said. "They have to assure them that their historical sites and churches are going to be respected. That was not the case a year and a half ago in March 2004 [when Albanians rioted against Serbs]."

Mr. Burns was asked if an independent Kosovo would have its own army?

"If there is going to be a new state, should it have a military? I think most people would say, probably not," he said. "We're probably going to see a period of time, whatever the outcome of the talks, for NATO to provide security on the military side."

Currently there are 17,000 NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, including 1,700 from the United States.

Mr. Burns says all sides in the negotiations, including Serbia, will have to compromise and there will be rewards for cooperation.

"If they [the Serbs] can arrest [war crimes indictee Ratko] Mladic, we said we would accept them into [NATO's] Partnership for Peace the next day," he said. "And certainly, looking far into the future, we see Serbia and Montenegro as the keystone state in the Balkans. And we want them to be in NATO and the European Union."

Mr. Burns says Belgrade's own conduct will determine the pace of its integration into Western institutions.

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