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UN:  Kosovo Status Won't Be Determined This Year - 2003-02-07

The top U.N. envoy to Kosovo told the Security Council Thursday that the future status of the former Yugoslav province of Kosovo, under the administration of the United Nations since 1999, will not be determined this year.

The U.N.'s chief administrator in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, told the Security Council that Kosovo has a long way to go in establishing a multiethnic society, democratic institutions and the rule of law. Therefore, he said, it's too soon to determine the future of the province.

"I do not believe that 2003 is the time for finally solving Kosovo's status, but it is the time to lay the groundwork for political process, which in the end will determine status," he said.

Mr. Steiner was critical of ethnic Albanian politicians who are pushing for Kosovo's independence on the grounds the "standards" for statehood have been met. He was equally critical of Belgrade's call for an early resolution requesting the return of the province to Serbia-Montenegro.

He said Pristina and Belgrade should hold open dialogue on the future of Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and 10 percent Serb. He said politicians should focus on the more immediate problems of reducing crime, ethnic violence, corruption and unemployment.

"So what do the people in Kosovo want? What are their priorities? Jobs, security and multi-ethnicity," Mr. Steiner said. "The is what the standards are about. This is what the international community wants, this is what people in Kosovo want."

In a statement, the Security Council reiterated its support for the U.N. mission in Kosovo, called UNMIK, to continue its role in security and state-building prior to taking on the province's future status.

In his report, Mr. Steiner also welcomed a growing role of the European Union, which is setting up a mission in Kosovo this month and is expected to draw up its own Balkan strategy.