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UN Envoy Urges Prompt Settlement of Kosovo Status

The chief United Nations administrator in Kosovo is warning that any delay in settling the region's status could lead to further instability. But as VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from U.N. headquarters, a Serbian official rejected calls for a quick settlement.

U.N. special envoy to Kosovo Joachim Rucker told the Security Council the people of Kosovo are increasingly nervous about their future status. He said a decision must be made quickly on whether the region will remain part of Serbia, or become independent.

"For the good of the future of the people of Kosovo, the current period of uncertainty needs to be brought to an end as soon as possible," he said.

Rucker, who assumed his post only days ago, told the Council there are bound to be tensions in the months ahead between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which make up 90 percent of the population, and the ethnic Serb minority. But he said no good would be served by delaying a final decision on the status question.

"Delay will not bring reconciliation," he said. "Delay will not lead to economic recovery. Delay will only prolong tensions in Kosovo society.

U.N. and U.S. officials have said they want a decision by the end of the year on whether the province remains part of Serbia or gains independence.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Jackie Sanders urged both sides to find a compromise that will satisfy the region's ethnically diverse population.

"Both sides must be realistic about the outcome of the status process," she said. "Kosovo must remain multi-ethnic and the settlement must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo. Additionally, There will be no return of Kosovo to the pre-1999 situation, no partition of Kosovo and no union of Kosovo with any other or part of, another country.

The top Serbian official in Kosovo, however, rejected calls for a quick settlement of the status issue. Sanda Raskovic-Ivic warned that a lasting settlement is possible only if artificial deadlines are set aside.

Speaking to the Security Council, she made clear that Belgrade is determined to retain Kosovo, and said the region's ethnic Albanian majority must be persuaded to accept broad autonomy within Serbia.

"The necessary political steps should be taken to persuade the Albanian side to give up extreme, exclusive demands and embrace a rational and compromise solution, namely substantial autonomy with comprehensive competences," she said.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku attended the meeting but did not participate in the debate. But Albania's U.N. Ambassador Adrian Neritani called for what he called a 'realistic' solution.

"We stress our strong conviction that the most realistic, pragmatic and just solution of this status is independence," he said.

Talks on Kosovo's future status have been going on since February, with little progress.

Earlier this week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a report expressing disappointment with what he called "a lack of common ground" shown in the discussions.

United Nations administrators and an international peacekeeping force were sent to Kosovo in 1999 to contain ethnic hostilities. A senior U.S. diplomat visiting the region Wednesday was quoted as saying the international community would maintain its civilian and military presence in Kosovo after its status is resolved.