Envoys to meet Serbs, then Albanians, on Kosovo

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LONDON, Sep 18 (Reuters) The search for compromise over Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo brings Serb officials to London for talks with mediators today, a warm-up for face to face talks with ethnic Albanian leaders later this month.

Kosovo's two million Albanians demand independence, while Serbia offers broad autonomy. Diplomats see little chance of a deal but envoys from the United States, the European Union and Russia are calling for a compromise.

In an interview with British newspaper, The Independent, EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger said the two sides should get away from labels such as 'independence'.

''I would say that we will try to reach a status solution which will provide for an internationally-supervised status for Kosovo,'' Ischinger was quoted as saying.

''I would leave open independence. I would rather talk about strong supervised status.'' Today's meeting was due to begin at 2230 ist. The ethnic Albanians will meet the ''troika'' of envoys on Wednesday.

The first direct talks between Serbs and Albanians are due on September 28 on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The three envoys are expected to report back to the UN by December 10. Russia, which blocked a Western-backed plan for 'supervised independence' after 13 months of talks, is pushing for more time.

But Kosovo's Albanians are running out of patience and are threatening to declare independence within months.

They are going to London with a 'treaty on good relations between sovereign states' that they say shows how they see their future with Serbia.

Kosovo has been run by the UN since 1999, when NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop a Serb counter-insurgency war that killed thousands and forced almost one million to flee.

NATO allies with 16,000 troops on the ground fear unrest if there is no clear roadmap, but the 27-member EU is split on whether to recognise a new state without a UN resolution.

REUTERS ARB KP1521

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