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Crucial talks to start on future status of Kosovo

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Crucial talks to start on future status of Kosovo


Serbs and Kosovar Albanians will meet in Vienna today for the first round of direct negotiations to decide the fate of the disputed southern province. Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since NATO air strikes drove out Serb forces in 1999.

Frustration at the lack of resolution to the ongoing situation has led to anger against the remaining Serb minority of around 100,000 people. Serbia says it will agree to broad autonomy for the country. But for the Albanian community, only total independence will do. Diplomats say statehood could be conditional on concessions to Serbs and protection for their heritage. It is not clear yet whether UN envoy Martti Athisaari will summon the main political leaders to meet around the negotiating table. Some 90 percent of Kosovo’s two million inhabitants are ethnic Albanians. But the Serbs claim the region as theirs. Rich in Orthodox religious heritage, it holds almost mythic status for Serbs, who claim the territory has been central to their history and identity for 1,000 years. The divisions between the communities remain all too clear. In Mitrovica last June, UN troops formed a safety corridor to allow Serbs to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. The only Serb Orthodox church is in the southern part of the town, an Albanian enclave. Despite the presence of peacekeepers, there were angry scenes outside the church as the convoy left.
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