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Improvements for minorities imperative for Kosovo status talks, UN envoy says

Improvement in the lives of minorities in Kosovo must be made immediately, a senior United Nations envoy said today, as a prerequisite to settling the final status of the Albanian-majority Serbian province which the United Nations has run ever since Yugoslav troops were driven out in 1999 amid grave rights abuses.

“There are certain standards, like the protection of minorities and the improvement in their lives that have to be improved now,” Martti Ahtisaari, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for the future status of Kosovo told members of the press after briefing the Security Council on his consultations with Kosovar and Serb leaders following their first round of direct talks.

Other internationally-prescribed standards which have to be met are not as pressing, he said. “For example, they have started the negotiation process toward membership in the European Union, which many countries have taken years to implement before they are ready,” he noted.

Independence and autonomy are among the status options that have been mentioned for the province, where Albanians outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1. Serbia rejects independence and Kosovo’s Serbs have been boycotting the province’s provisional institutions.

“There’s a healthy recognition that this issue is not among the easiest,” Mr. Ahtisaari said of the Council’s reaction to his briefing.

Following the first round of talks last month in Vienna, on decentralization, Mr. Ahtisaari visited Belgrade, Serbia and Pristina, Kosovo to urge leaders to remain continuously engaged on the issue.

Upon returning from that trip, Mr. Ahtisaari said that another meeting on decentralization would be held in the Austrian capital on 17 March, focusing on local financing and inter-municipal cooperation, adding that he was using a ‘bottom-up approach,’ in other words starting the process by dealing with practical and ‘status-neutral’ issues.

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