Early last spring, it seemed the formally Serbian province populated mostly by ethnic Albanians was poised to gain full independence, in accordance with a plan by United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president.
But Russian opposition to that plan put it on the back burner -- prompting a fresh round of negotiations due to begin today in Belgrade.
Envoys from the United States, the European Union, and Russia are meeting Serbian officials as part of a new effort to break the deadlock over Kosovo's postwar status.
Then, on August 11, the international mediators of the so-called Contact Group on Kosovo move on to Pristina to meet with with ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo’s capital.
Kosovo's leaders still insist on full independence for the province. Belgrade rejects this, and is offering Kosovo wide autonomy within Serbia.
Is the fresh round of talks the last chance for a negotiated settlement? Germany’s Wolfgang Ischinger, the EU’s envoy to the talks, suggested as much today in an interview with the BBC.
Washington’s representative, Frank Wisner, was more cautious when he spoke this with the Kosovo Subunit of RFE/RL’s South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.
“The government in Belgrade and the authorities in Pristina have given us their solemn assurance that they will participate fully in this round of discussion,” Wisner said. “It will be a serious one. The three of us, the Contact Group behind it, and the [UN] secretary-general have all called for an important, intensive engagement during the weeks ahead. And so it is going to be a serious effort and we will look at all possible avenues to finding the points I mentioned to you -- ways to reach peace and stability in the region.”
The new talks were agreed after Russia threatened to block Athisaari’s Western-backed plan in the UN Security Council. Moscow says it will only accept a plan agreed on by both sides.
The United States has made clear that it wants independence for Kosovo.
Wisner said the Athisaari plan, which called for independence for Kosovo to be overseen initially by the international community, remains “the essential building block” for an eventual deal.
“Now the parties will have one last chance to see how they want to go forward. I am certain that the Serbian side will want to focus on the issue of status. I am sure the Kosovo Albanian side will want to address the same question. Then there are questions how Kosovo and Serbia get on in the future and how they fit in to the region," Wisner said.
"There are many issues they can raise, but I am not -- and let me underscore, not -- suggesting an agenda for this talks. I believe the responsibility lies with the parties and we have been assured that they will contribute in a serious manner,” he added.
Serbia angrily rejected the UN's plan as a legal violation aimed at breaking up the country. However, Belgrade has yet to produce a viable counterproposal.
Ischinger, speaking head of the Belgrade visit, said EU wants the talks to be based on the reality that Serbia has not controlled Kosovo over the past eight years.
Since the end of the 1998-99 war between ethnic-Albanian separatists and Serbian forces, Kosovo has formally remained part of Serbia, although under UN administration.
Pro-independence graffiti in Prishtina (epa)
FINALLY STATUS? Sabine Freizer, director of the Crisis Group's Europe Program, told an RFE/RL briefing that deep divisions in the UN Security Council make it uncertain what form Kosovo's future status might take.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
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