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Kosovo: UN Group Discusses Revival Of Political Process, Status Issue

High-level officials from a group of countries helping to set United Nations policy for Kosovo have discussed measures aimed at ending the political stalemate over the province's future. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan late yesterday briefed officials of the Contact Group and other regional leaders on possible adjustments to the UN reform plan for Kosovo, known as "standards before status." Annan is seeking to revive the political process six months after a major outbreak of violence and maintain international pressure for reforms.

United Nations, 21 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Diplomats engaged in charting Kosovo's future met at the UN to discuss ways to improve the province's administration.

This year has seen the worst violence in Kosovo since the UN took over running it in mid-1999, following a NATO-led war aimed at halting Serbian attempts to cleanse the area of its ethnic Albanian majority.

In yesterday's briefing, Annan outlined the recommendations of a new UN report on Kosovo's final status to the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia, Romania, and Italy as well as a top U.S. diplomat.

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told RFE/RL that the meeting emphasized the need for the international community to do more to prepare for a review of Kosovo's status in the middle of next year.
The UN report urges sharpening the focus on reforms in Kosovo and speeding up discussions of the province's final status.

"We just cannot stay idle and wait for the time to go by and then eventually decide on various topics," Geoana said. "So the conversation today was basically on the process of decentralization and transfer of competencies inside Kosovo."

The UN report urges sharpening the focus on reforms in Kosovo and speeding up discussions of the province's final status.

Technically, Kosovo is still part of Belgrade. Serbs say they will never part with what they consider their historic heartland.

Meanwhile, the province's majority Albanian community wants independence. But the international community says the province's "final status" can't be discussed until the so-called "standards" are first established.

Geoana said the group also discussed encouraging Serbs and other minorities to vote in Kosovo's elections next month. Maintaining links between the Kosovo peace process and the European Union's engagement with Serbia and Montenegro was also on the agenda.

Also taking part in the meeting were Soren Jessen-Petersen, the new UN special representative for Kosovo, and Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat whom Annan commissioned to study Kosovo's problems after an outbreak of violence in March.

Eide's recommendations include accelerating the transfer of authority to local Kosovo Albanian officials and expediting preparations for future status discussions.

Geoana said differences persist among some Contact Group members about adjustments to the "standards before status" process. That process, now subject to review, establishes a series of reform benchmarks for Kosovars to meet before the status question can be addressed.

"There are some voices saying we should wait until we see a review, a general review of the standards before entering any discussion about status while others are saying, with some logic, that we should press for standards and have this devolution and this decentralization and make the whole process work," Geoana said.

European members in the group, such as Britain, have expressed support for expediting the handover of more authority to Kosovo Albanians in areas such as the economy.

But Russia has called for postponing the deadline for reviewing the standards beyond the middle of next year. It also backs a plan by Belgrade to divide the province into cantons.

Yesterday's meeting did not produce any formal agreement or declaration on the way forward in Kosovo. But Geoana said it affirmed support for Annan's efforts to revive the political process.

"I would say it was a feeling of support for this reengaging of the Secretary-General in the process and he will have all our support in moving forward," Geoana said.

Another high-level meeting of the Kosovo Contact Group is set for tomorrow in New York at Germany's UN mission.

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