Serbs, Albanians discuss situation in Kosovo

The former foes will present their proposals to U.N. mediators on issues such as education, and discuss whether municipal officials would be able to appoint police and judicial officials in their areas, U.N. spokeswoman Hua Jiang said.

Initially, the talks will not be conducted face to face, but instead U.N. intermediaries will shuttle between the delegations in separate rooms, before they meet for a joint session later Monday, Jiang said.

Kosovo's Deputy Premier Lutfi Haziri and the leader of the province's delegation in the talks said competencies over secondary health care, the university for the Serb minority in Kosovo and cooperation between the Serb municipalities and Serbia will also be on the agenda.

Ethnic Albanian and Serb negotiators have been meeting since mid-February to discuss ways of improving the Serb minority's rights in Kosovo. So far, talks have focused mainly on local government reform and on measures to ensure that Serb religious sites are protected.

Officials have failed to agree on the key issue of how many new Serb municipalities should be created in the province, with the Serbian delegation suggesting 13 and their ethnic Albanian counterparts proposing six.

Ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million. An estimated 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, after about 200,000 Serbs and other minorities fled after Serb troops were driven out by a NATO bombardment in 1999.

The province, legally part of Serbia, has been run by a U.N. mission for over seven years, and U.N. envoys want to steer the two sides toward an agreement by the end of 2006, the AP rports.

Ethnic Albanians have agreed to participate, but it was unclear if Serb officials would attend Tuesday's discussion, after they had demanded the issue be considered only after Kosovo's future status was determined. They argued that the mechanisms for protecting Kosovo's minorities could not be defined before it was clear whether the province would be independent or remain within Serbian borders.

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