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Long Negotiations Foreseen on Status of Serbian Province of Kosovo

A panel of experts at Washington's conservative American Enterprise Institute Thursday predicted long and difficult negotiations to determine the final status of Kosovo, the disputed, mostly Albanian populated, province of Serbia

Panelists agreed that it will not be easy to find a solution that is acceptable both to the Serbian government in Belgrade and the Kosovo Albanians in Pristina. The Albanians demand full independence, an outcome strenuously opposed by Belgrade.

For six years Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations while a NATO-led peacekeeping force maintains security. In response to Serbian oppression of the Albanian majority, a NATO air war in 1999 drove Serbian troops out of Kosovo. The United Nations is now moving towards final status negotiations, a process expected to take at least six months.

Helga Flores-Trejo, a former international civil servant in Belgrade, says all parties will have to compromise if a solution is to be reached.

"What we're asking-it's not only Serbia that needs to do something," she said. "It is Kosovo. And it is the European Union. This is not going to work unless there is a credible EU accession process."

The final status negotiations are expected to be led by former Finnish President Martii Ahtisaari.

Panelist John Norris of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization, says the status quo cannot continue indefinitely in Kosovo, an impoverished land-locked territory with only two million inhabitants.

"It is neither a province nor a country. It simply doesn't work. It is a kind of political and bureaucratic Disneyland. You've got a place where 70% of the property is owned the state," he said.

Panelists agreed that the negotiations are likely to lead to conditional independence with European and U.S. military forces remaining in Kosovo indefinitely. Obrad Kesic, a consultant with close ties to Serbia, questioned the concept of conditional independence.

"When you talk about conditional independence you're really talking about being a little bit pregnant. It is impossible to have conditional independence. You can have it as a slogan, but practically, once you give independence you've given it," said Obrad Kesic.

Panelists suggested that from the outset the Kosovo negotiations will not allow for a return to direct rule from Belgrade, a merger with Albania, or partition along ethnic or geographic lines.