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Serbs, Albanians Start Talks On Kosovo's Future

20 February 2006 -- Serb and ethnic Albanian negotiators begin direct talks today on the future status of Kosovo.

The negotiations in Vienna are being mediated by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who was appointed by the United Nations to steer the talks toward an agreement.

A spokeswoman for Ahtisaari said the first round of talks will deal with local-government reform aimed at enhancing the rights of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo.

On 19 February, a member of the Serb negotiating team, Slobodan Samardzic, said the Serb community in Kosovo should be given self-rule in areas where they form a majority.

Lutfi Hazir, the head of the ethnic Albanian side, said the purpose of the talks is to move the province away from Belgrade "for good."

Diplomats from the so-called Contact Group -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia -- have already agreed on a set of guidelines for Kosovo's future.

Those rules say 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.

(RFE/RL 20.ii.06)

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