Long-awaited talks on the future of Kosovo open Monday in Vienna with Serbs and ethnic Albanians debating whether the province becomes independent or stays part of Serbia.

The United Nations is sponsoring the talks and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is mediating.

Diplomats say the first sessions will focus on securing the rights of Kosovo's minority Serbs.

Many of them fear reprisals from the ethnic Albanian majority if Kosovo breaks away from Serbia. The ethnic Albanians want independence which Serbs oppose.

The six-nation Contact Group on Kosovo - Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States - say Kosovo cannot return to direct Serbian rule, be split among ethnic lines, or joined with any other country.

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999 when NATO airstrikes drove out Serbian security forces after violence against ethnic Albanians.

Some information for this report was provided by  AP and Reuters.