Kosovo And Serb Leaders Meet on Province Status
Kosovo And Serb Leaders Meet for First Time on the Province’s Status at UN-Backed Talks
New York, Jul 24 2006 8:00PM
Top Serbian and Kosovar leaders met for the first time today to discuss plans for the future status of the United Nations-run province of Kosovo, and while both sides remain far apart politically, the UN official overseeing the discussions welcomed the start of dialogue and said the world body remained committed to further negotiations.
The meeting, which was held in Vienna under the auspices of Martti Ahtisaari, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Kosovo’s future status process, included Serbia’s President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. The Kosovo delegation was led by President Fatmir Sejdiu.
“The High-level meeting we just had here is a result of the clear wish on the part of the parties to move to direct talks on the future status,” Mr. Ahtisaari said at a press conference afterwards.
“Today’s discussion was meant to enable both sides to present and argue their respective positions, and the meeting did achieve that objective. The presentations showed that it is evident that the positions of the parties remain far apart: Belgrade would agree to almost anything but independence, whereas Pristina would accept nothing but full independence.”
Today’s meeting was also the first formal one between top Serbian and Kosovar leaders since 1999, although Mr. Ahtisaari has facilitated lower-level technical talks between the two sides since February and he said his office intended “to move rapidly forward” with further technical discussions.
“We will also focus increasingly on areas which have not been discussed – namely, community rights and constitutional and institutional aspects of the status process. Again, substantial progress in these areas requires the parties to be realistic and flexible.”
He stressed that one of the central aims of the international community is to create conditions in Kosovo where all communities can live in a multi-ethnic society, adding that the full support of Serbia was of vital importance for this.
“I have reminded the participants today that we should not lose sight of the fact that the process we are engaged in is about all the people of Kosovo, from all of Kosovo’s communities. The people expect them to exercise leadership, so does the international community.”
Kosovo, an Albanian-majority Serbian province, has been run by the UN since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave human rights abuses in ethnic fighting.