Serbian and ethnic Albanian leaders met Tuesday to discuss Kosovo for the first time since the 1999 war that led to NATO intervention ending Belgrade's repression in the province. The U.N. sponsored talks lasted just a few hours but were attended by high level officials from the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and a delegation from the United States. The U.N. administrator in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, said the delegates agreed to set up four working groups on transport, energy, telecommunications, the return of refugees and the fate of missing persons.
"What we are aiming to do is to solve the practical issues to help ordinary life, ordinary people's lives in the area and the international community is fully committed on that," he said.
Mr. Holkeri said the groups will start work in November and run simultaneously in Belgrade and Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. They will report to the United Nations and follow up meetings should take place every six months.
He said getting both sides to come to Vienna and meet face-to-face was not easy, and regretted that Kosovo's ethnic Albanian Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi boycotted the meeting.
The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo wants independence from Belgrade, but the final status of the province was excluded from the Vienna talks.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said there had been no direct talks as such, but that the Vienna meeting could lead to a dialogue.
European Union security chief Javier Solana underlined the symbolic value of the event.
"This is the first time that the two delegations meet together, this is a very, very important step. This is the first time they talk to each other, this is a very, very important step," he emphasized. "This is the first time the international community around the two delegations have spoken with the same wave length, and that is an important step, and so if you put this together you should conclude that today is a very important day for the stabilization of the region and the stabilization of the world."
There are about 3,000 U.N. police in Kosovo and around 20,000 NATO soldiers. One of their jobs is to protect the Serb minority living in the province.