13 December 2007 Belgrade and Pristina have been unable to reach agreement on the final status of Kosovo, the Serbian province administered by the United Nations since 1999, despite four months of intense and high-level negotiations, according to a report just submitted to the Security Council.

“Neither party was willing to cede its position on the fundamental question of sovereignty,” concluded the report of the troika, comprising the European Union, Russia and the United States, that was set up to lead the recent negotiations. The troika was itself created by the so-called Contact Group of countries – the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Russia – which conveyed this report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who then transmitted it to the Council this week. The troika was established after a stalemate emerged over a proposal by Mr. Ban’s Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, for a phased process of independence for the province, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by nine to one. Kosovo’s Albanian leadership supports independence but Serbia is opposed.

Mr. Ahtisaari declared talks on the future status of the province deadlocked in mid-March, a little more than a month after unveiling his proposals, which aimed to address the demands of a multi-ethnic society.

The plan called for a constitution enshrining principles to protect the rights of all communities, including culture, language, education and symbols, as well as granting specific representation for non-Albanians in key public institutions and requiring that certain laws may only be enacted if a majority of the Kosovo non-Albanian legislative members agree.

It also called for wide-ranging decentralization, focusing in particular on the specific needs and concerns of the Serb community, which would have a high degree of control over its own affairs such as secondary health care, higher education and financial matters, including accepting transparent funding from Serbia. Six new or significantly expanded Kosovo Serb majority municipalities would be set up.

The troika’s report expressed regret over the failure to reach a negotiated settlement, saying it was in the best interests of both sides to do so. But it added that the negotiations process had still been useful.

“Under our auspices, the parties engaged in the most sustained and intense high-level direct dialogue since hostilities ended in Kosovo in 1999. Through this process, the parties discovered areas where their interests aligned. The parties also agreed on the need to promote and protect multi-ethnic societies and address difficult issues holding back reconciliation, particularly the fate of missing persons and the return of displaced persons.

“Perhaps most important, Belgrade and Pristina reaffirmed the centrality of their European perspective to their future relations, with both sides restating their desire to seek a future under the common roof of the European Union.

The troika also noted that it had extracted important commitments from the two sides, including a pledge that they would not use violence and refrain from any actions that might jeopardize the security situation in Kosovo and elsewhere.

“We note that Kosovo and Serbia will continue to be tied together due to the special nature of their relationship, especially in its historical, human, geographical, economical and cultural dimensions.

The report also concluded that the settlement of Kosovo’s status was critical to the stability and security of both the Western Balkans region and Europe as a whole.

Source: UN News Centre

The full text of the report is available at:

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/EGUA-79VMAA/$File/Full_Report.pdf