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Published: Friday, 7/28/2006

Talking about Kosovo

TALKS between the top leaders of Serbia and Kosovo took place Monday in Vienna under United Nations auspices. The subject was the future of Kosovo, and even if nothing comes of it, a discussion at that level represents progress.

The chairman of the talks was an experienced high-level negotiator, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari. Representing Serbia were President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Kosovo was represented by President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku, both ethnic Albanians. This was the first official meeting at that level between the two sides.

There is also clear indication that the six countries that oversee Kosovo - France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - and the United Nations as well, are sick and tired of running the place. The problem of its future remains unresolved seven years after NATO military action ended the war between the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians there in 1999.

Kosovo, about the size of Connecticut, has a population of 2 million. Keeping peace and administering it has been expensive for the United Nations and the countries that have contributed to the undertaking.

The Albanian Kosovars, more than 90 percent of the population, want full independence. Serbia would like to maintain sovereignty. Its main concern is the well-being of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, who are for the most part Orthodox by faith. There are also important religious and historic sites for the Serbs in Kosovo.

A deal for independence would need to include guarantees of the rights of Serbs remaining there and assurances of respect of the Serbs' sacred sites. This should be possible, but there is violence and hatred in the background that would call any guarantees the Kosovar Albanians provide into question.

The Europeans and the United Nations have signaled that they are ready to turn up the heat on the parties to achieve a settlement by the end of the year. One tool in the Europeans' hands is Serbia's desire to join the European Union and the progress that its rival, Croatia, is making toward that status.

With enough pressure, the Kosovo question could be resolved. It is certainly about time.

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