Top U.N. officials are cautioning Kosovo that further progress must be made toward internationally set standards before any decision is made on the future status of the province that figured prominently in fighting in the Balkans during the nineties. The first progress review is to be held in 18 months.

The undersecretary-general for U.N. peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno Wednesday called the eight "Standards for Kosovo" an important step in determining the province's final status. The U.N. drafted standards, announced earlier this month, include free, fair and regular elections, a free media, and a sound and impartial legal system.

The United Nations has administered the province since 1999 when NATO airstrikes forced Serbian and Yugoslav security forces from the area. Its future remains undecided.

In remarks to the Security Council, Undersecretary-General Guehenno set no timetable for progress, but emphasized that the standards must be met before any decision on status can be made.

"A prerequisite for any discussion on Kosovo's future status remains achievement of the eight standards," he said. "At the same time, achieving the standards would lead to a qualitative change in Kosovo, which is a goal in itself, and an essential precondition to advance democracy and a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo."

Mr. Guehenno said weaknesses in Kosovo include an increase in serious crimes over the past two months. In particular, he noted attacks on police, including the murder of two officers in late November.

He also cautioned Kosovar leaders to work for a better dialogue with the Serbian capital, Belgrade. He blamed officials in Pristina for a lack of communication with Serbian leaders since their dialogue was launched in Belgrade.

Also addressing the Security Council, Serbia's U.N. representative Dejan Sahovic said Belgrade generally supports the "Standards before Status" concept. But he said the plan rings alarm bells among Serbian leaders.

"Primarily, the document failed to define standards in a manner that would open prospects for the creation of a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo," he said.

Recognizing the lingering sensitivity over Kosovo's status, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte cautioned there should be no discussion of a possible outcome until progress is made toward achieving the standards.

The first progress review is set for the middle of 2005.