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AP Top U.N. official invites Serb officials for practical talks in Kosovo

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    http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20030303/ap_wo_en_po/e u_gen_kosovo_talks_1 Top U.N. official invites Serb officials for practical talks in
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2003
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      Top U.N. official invites Serb officials for practical talks in Kosovo
      Mon Mar 3,12:51 PM ET

      By GARENTINA KRAJA, Associated Press Writer

      PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro - Kosovo's top U.N. official sent a letter
      to Serbia's leadership on Monday, inviting a Serbian ministerial
      delegation for talks on practical issues affecting Kosovo and Serbia,
      but excluded any discussion on the province's status.

      Michael Steiner, the chief U.N. administrator for Kosovo, proposed that
      a meeting be held next week in Kosovo's provincial capital Pristina.

      The invitation was sent to Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and
      Nebojsa Covic, the Serb government official in charge of the province.
      Djindjic last month demanded that an international conference on
      Kosovo's future be held in June, saying the province was becoming a
      de-facto independent state.

      Steiner proposed an agenda including topics such as trade relations,
      transport, recognition of license plates and personal documents.

      "We can now launch these talks on practical issues together," Steiner
      said. "We encourage Belgrade to join us so that we can resolve issues in
      the interest of all the people concerned in Serbia as well as here in
      Kosovo."

      Kosovo's future status was notably absent from the agenda - Steiner
      earlier has ruled out that such talks would be held this year.

      "Let's discuss issues that are in the immediate interest of the people.
      This is what we need now to address and focus on," he said Monday.
      "There is no mandate to address the status issues and they are not part
      of the package I'm proposing."

      A Djindjic aide told Belgrade's Radio 202 the government was likley to
      accept the invitation.

      Covic, the Belgrade envoy for Kosovo, welcomed Steiner's invitation,
      saying he perceived it as the "return of Serbia to Kosovo," the Serbian
      state Tanjug news agency reported.

      "The new democratic government in Belgrade has from the start supported
      dialogue with officials of the temporary provincial institutions," Covic
      was quoted as saying.

      He also indicated Belgrade would demand that the talks include issues
      important to Kosovo's Serb minority, such as the return of Serb refugees
      and Serb security concerns.

      The invitation comes after Kosovo's local institutions last week agreed
      to join U.N. authorities in the practical discussions. The meeting would
      mark the first time ethnic Albanian leaders and Serb officials from
      Belgrade meet for talks since the end of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.

      Kosovo has a legislature and a government that deal with daily issues,
      but the overall power rests with the province's U.N. mission.

      Local Kosovo leaders in the past have held meetings on trade and other
      issues with representatives of Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania.

      The relations between Serbia and Kosovo have remained tense since the
      end of the bloodshed that left an estimated 10,000 people killed, most
      of them ethnic Albanians. In war's aftermath, about 200,000 province's
      Serbs left their homes out of fear of revenge attacks. Those who remain
      live in isolated enclaves.

      Kosovo legally remains a part of Serbia-Montenegro, the loose union that
      recently replaced Yugoslavia. However, it has been administered by the
      United Nations (news - web sites) and NATO (news - web sites) since 1999
      when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign ended Serb forces' crackdown on
      ethnic Albanians.

      The U.N. resolution that removed Belgrade's authority over the area left
      Kosovo's final status open. Its ethnic Albanian majority wants
      independence, while most of its Serbs want the province to remain part
      of Serbia and Montenegro.
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