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Serbia, Kosovo leaders urged to stay engaged

UN envoy urges Serbia, Kosovo leaders to stay engaged in status talks

A United Nations special envoy today completed a five-day visit to Serbia and Kosovo following last month’s first round of direct talks between the two sides on the final status of the Albanian-majority Serbian province, which the UN has run ever since Yugoslav troops were driven out in 1999 amid grave rights abuses in ethnic fighting.

“The decentralization talks held in Vienna were a good start and I urged the leaders I met in Belgrade and Pristina to remain continuously engaged,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari for the future status of Kosovo said in Vienna, where his office is based.

Independence and autonomy are among options that have been mentioned for the province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1. Serbia rejects independence. Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s provisional institutions.

Mr. Ahtisaari confirmed that another meeting on decentralization would be held in the Austrian capital on 17 March, focusing on local financing and inter-municipal cooperation and relationships, adding that he was using “a ‘bottom-up approach,’ in other words starting the process by dealing with practical and ‘status-neutral’ issues.

“Apart from decentralization, we will run parallel discussions on cultural and religious heritage, minority rights and economy,” he said.

He appealed to Serbian leaders to encourage Kosovo Serb leaders to participate in the province’s institutions. “If you people don’t participate, it will be very difficult for any administration to create conditions where people can live together,” he told them during his visit to the province.

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