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Diplomats Warn Against Obstructing Kosovo Settlement


The international Contact Group on Kosovo warned the Serbian government and Kosovar Albanians Wednesday that neither will be allowed to obstruct a settlement of the issue of Kosovo's final status. The contact group including the United States, Russia and key European countries, said it is still aiming for a Kosovo accord by the end of this year and that the process is at a crucial stage.

The quest for a negotiated accord on Kosovo's final status has been hampered by violence in the U.N.-administered region and defiant statements from Belgrade opposing any agreement that does not keep the majority ethnic-Albanian area as part of Serbia.

But the six-nation Contact Group, which has been working on the issue for more than a decade, is stressing its determination to press ahead with the effort to get an agreement by year's end, and to do so if necessary without the assent of either Serbia or the Kosovo Albanians.

The tough language came in a statement issued at the close a ministerial-level meeting of the Contact Group - the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Italy and Germany - on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried, who briefed reporters on the closed-door meeting, said the ministers strongly reaffirmed support for U.N. Special Envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari, and the effort to get an agreement acceptable to Kosovo's people and which preserves the province's multi-ethnic character.

Fried, citing communiqué language, said neither the authorities in Belgrade nor the interim administration in Pristina, the Kosovar capital, can unilaterally block the final-status process from advancing. He said the Contact Group faulted the performance of each side in the settlement process.

"The ministers urged the Kosovar leadership, the provisional institutions of self government - that is, the quasi-government in Kosovo - to accelerate the efforts to implement U.N.-endorsed standards," said Daniel Fried. "And they called on Belgrade to cease its obstruction of Kosovo-Serb participation in Kosovo's institutions. So they made rather pointed statements directed at Belgrade and Pristina and they did not make identical statements."

The ministerial statement hailed special envoy Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, for conducting eight months of intensive negotiations in the drive for an agreement this year.

The two sides were urged to work constructively to bridge remaining gaps in their positions, and the statement said the Contact Group will monitor their degree of cooperation and draw conclusions accordingly.

A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity declined to say how a settlement might be imposed over the objections of the main parties.

He said a negotiated solution remains everyone's hope, but also said the status-quo is unstable, and cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

Under questioning, the senior diplomat said Russia, a longtime political ally of the Belgrade government, supported every word of the Contact Group statement. He also said at the close of the meeting Secretary Rice asked for and obtained the endorsement of the Ahtisaari mission.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999 when a NATO air campaign drove out Serb forces of the former Yugoslav government who were waging a brutal crackdown against Albanian separatists.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 per cent of Kosovo's population of about two million people, want independence. The Serbian government has said it is willing to grant Kosovo broad autonomy, but asserts that the area is the heart of the historic Serb homeland and must remain part of Serbia.