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Kosovo Status Talks Aim To Conclude Decentralization Issues April 3

The diplomat chairing talks in Vienna on the future status of Kosovo says the talks between authorities in Pristina and Belgrade are progressing and could wrap up discussions on local government at the next meeting April 3. VOA's Barry Wood spoke Thursday with the head of the talks, Austrian diplomat Albert Rohan.

Though Kosovo officially remains part of Serbia, it has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when NATO airstrikes drove out Serbian forces after violence against ethnic Albanians. The talks now taking place are to determine who will govern Kosovo once NATO forces leave.

The diplomat in charge, Albert Rohan, says the first two rounds of talks between representatives from Kosovo and Belgrade, which took place between February 20 and March 17, dealt with decentralization and cooperation between municipalities in the province. The vast majority of Kosovo's two million citizens are ethnic Albanians, with a Serbian minority of 10 percent. There were also discussions about how Belgrade would provide financial assistance to minority Serb communities in Kosovo. Mr. Rohan says while there was little disagreement on some issues, there were differences. He says United Nations negotiators have prepared a comprehensive paper on decentralization, and he will deliver those suggestions to the negotiating parties.

"I shall myself go to Pristina on Tuesday (March 28) to explain this paper. And on the third of April we'll meet, the delegations will meet, and we will go through all those concrete matters where there is no agreement yet," he said.

Under the UN plan, technical matters are being discussed first, ahead of the far more vexing political issue of final status of the province. Mr. Rohan says after talks on local self-government, the negotiators will turn to discussions of protection of religious sites. "Here, it is somewhat more complicated. There is the Pristina government on the one side. There is Belgrade on the other. And there is, of course, the Serb Orthodox Church itself, whose position must be taken into account. Therefore the preparation needs a little bit more time," he said.

Some of the holiest shrines of Orthodox Christianity are in Kosovo. Two monasteries, Decani and Gracanica, are 700 years old and regarded as among Europe's most significant architectural and cultural treasures. After protection of cultural sites, the talks will then turn to economic matters.

Following the April third talks between delegates representing Pristina and Belgrade, Mr. Rohan says the six nations that guide the deliberations on Kosovo, the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia, will meet at high level in Athens, Greece on April 5 to discuss what progress is being made.