United States messenger for Kosovo says negotiations must not be allowed to drag out

The U.S. envoy for Kosovo cautioned Friday that the negotiations on the province's future must not drag out, urging both Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanian leaders to "get on with it."

Frank Wisner, Washington's representative in a U.N.-led team brokering the talks on Kosovo, made the comments after talks with Serbian president Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, as well as the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle.

Wisner arrived here from the provincial capital, Pristina, where he met with U.N. officials running the province, ethnic Albanian leaders and members of the Serb community.

The meetings were part of preparations for talks on a final settlement for Kosovo, expected to start later this month in Vienna , Austria .

Wisner is providing American support to the lead negotiator, U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, in bringing Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders to the negotiating table.

With the two sides taking different stands Kosovo's Albanians want the province to gain full independence while Belgrade wants to retain at least some control over the region Serbs considered the cradle of Serbia 's statehood the upcoming negotiations will "not be easy," Wisner said.

"We've got to get on with it, the outcome is important to your country as it is to all of us in the West," Wisner told reporters in Belgrade . "It's in all our interest not to let the process drag out."

Wisner said he believed Kosovo's future should be resolved by the end of 2006. "Achieving a final status settlement during 2006 ... ought to be the target we all seek to achieve."

The final settlement must "ensure the peace and security of the region, a better future for Kosovo and full rights for the minority populations" in the province, he said.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO air war ended Serbia 's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. The province's future remains among the most contentious issues from the bloody Balkan wars of the 1990s. About 17,500 NATO-led peacekeepers patrol Kosovo, including some 1,800 U.S. soldiers.

Diplomats from the so-called Contact Group United States , Britain , Germany , France , Italy and Russia have already agreed on a set of guidelines for Kosovo's future. These set out that the province cannot return to its previous status under direct Serb rule, be partitioned along ethnic lines, or be joined to another country in the region, such as Albania, reports the AP.


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