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Sides Still At Odds Over Kosovo After 'Frank' Discussion

Kosovo-Serbian delegates Leon Kojen (left) and Slobodan Samardzic attend the talks in Vienna today (epa) 20 February 2006 -- Serbian and Kosovo-Albanian leaders have finished a first day of talks in Vienna on the sensitive issue of the future status of Kosovo.

Reports from unnamed diplomats close to the private discussions said the atmosphere was "frank" and "constructive," but the two sides remain apart on key issues.

Ahead of the meeting, Serbian officials had been calling for a wide degree of autonomy for the province and its ethnic-Albanian majority if Kosovo remains a part of Serbia and Montenegro.

Leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, on the other hand, are urging full independence from Belgrade.

The UN has administered Kosovo since NATO air strikes in 1999 stopped Serbs from cracking down on independence-minded ethnic Albanians. Kosovo's status has since remained unresolved.

(dpa, AP)

Spotlight On Kosovo

Spotlight On Kosovo

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.

For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of developments in the disputed region of KOSOVO, click here.