Kosovo talks must be flexible, finite, says West

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LONDON, Sep 18 (Reuters) Talks on the future of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo resumed today with Europe saying they must not drag on indefinitely or get sidetracked in disputes over labels such as ''independence''.

A Serbian delegation met the mediating 'troika' of US, EU and Russian envoys seeking compromise between Serb rejection of independence for its province and a demand for statehood by Kosovo's majority two million Albanians.

Kosovo's status is one of the last disputes remaining from the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the creation of a number of new independent states in the Balkans.

The Kosovo Albanians were due to meet the diplomatic trio on Wednesday, their second round after an encounter in Vienna three weeks ago.

''I hope...the two sides and the troika can arrive at some sort of minimal consensus. But that (process) should not be eternal,'' French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a former UN special representative in Kosovo, said in Moscow earlier after talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The European Union and Washington see the December 10 date for a troika report to the United Nations as a deadline but Russia does not.

''We do not think it is possible to set artificial deadlines,'' Lavrov said.

Moscow has blocked a Western-backed UN resolution calling for independence for Kosovo under EU supervision, put forward this year after 13 months of fruitless negotiations.

Russia and Serbia complain Western support for independence makes a mockery of the negotiations. Some Serb ministers say imposing a solution could trigger a Serb return to the hardline nationalism of the 1990s, the root of the Kosovo problem.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told London's Chatham House think-tank that imposing ''a solution that satisfies only one side -- is a mortal threat to our democracy''.

Serbia's coalition government would lose legitimacy and the country could regress into ''self-imposed isolation'', he said.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop a Serb counter-insurgency war which killed some 10,000 civilians and forced 800,000 to flee.

NATO allies with 16,000 troops on the ground fear unrest if there is no clear roadmap to the future soon.

The 27-member EU, which would deploy an 1,800-strong police and justice mission as part of its supervisory role, is split on whether to recognise a new state without a UN resolution.

Kosovo Albanians are impatient with months of delay on a decision and are threatening to declare independence after December 10 if no agreement is reached.

The first direct talks are due on September 28, on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.

REUTERS RC BST0132

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