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Graffiti calling for independence for Kosovo (file photo) (epa)
11 January 2006 -- The UN envoy appointed to oversee talks on Kosovo's future says he hopes Serbian and ethnic Albanian representatives will meet for a first round of discussions on 25 January in the Austrian capital Vienna.
The envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, made the announcement at a news conference. He said the immediate issue that the two sides would address would be decentralizing the province's administration.
Serbia wants to retain some formal control over the province, which the United Nations has administered since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999.
The ethnic Albanians are seeking independence, which is still formally part of Serbia and Montenegro.
(compiled from agency reports)
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
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