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New Round of Kosovo Status Talks Launched

A new and possibly final round of negotiations to determine the status of the majority of ethnic Albanian in Serbian province of Kosovo have been launched in Belgrade and Pristina. VOA's Barry Wood reports what are expected to be up to four months of talks are being undertaken by diplomats from Russia, Germany and the United States.

Calling themselves the troika, the three high level diplomats came to Pristina Saturday from Belgrade. Here they held nearly three hours of talks with ethnic Albanian leaders who comprise Kosovo's all party negotiating team. They also met with UN administrators and the commander of the Nato-led force that has been responsible for Kosovo's security since 1999.

Speaking to reporters, American envoy Frank Wisner said the troika seeks to build bridges and bring the two sides together in order to preserve peace. "We will agree to whatever the parties agree to. We are not here to make proposals. We are here to obtain your ideas and seek consensus," he said.

Wisner said Serbian leaders assured the troika that they are committed to full cooperation in seeking a settlement. The two sides hold contradictory positions with Serbia opposed to independence and ethnic Albanians saying they will accept nothing less.

German envoy Wolfgang Ischinger admitted it will not be easy to bring the two sides together. "I think this is a good beginning for what is obviously not a very easy mission for the troika," he said.

Ischinger said Kosovo is very important to the European Union.

Russian envoy Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko said the troika is working under the auspices of the UN secretary general. "So it means that the overall status process keeps within the UN framework. We are going to facilitate as actively as we could a compromised based solution, an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. And thus we could enable the Security Council to endorse this solution," he said.

Russia last month blocked Security Council action on a plan for Kosovo's supervised independence advanced by a UN envoy who had conducted ten months of futile negotiations that failed to bridge the chasm between Belgrade and Pristina. Agreeing with Serbia, Russia is the prime mover for this new round of talks.

The troika will meet with the parties again within the next few weeks.