Serbia lobbies against deadline for Kosovo talks

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STRASBOURG, France, Oct 4 (Reuters) Serbia urged Europe today not to set a December deadline for negotiations on Kosovo, warning it would harm the talks and persuade breakaway Albanian leaders that independence was around the corner.

Kosovo's Albanian majority wants independence from Serbia but Belgrade insists it will not give up the province, which has been under UN administration since a NATO bombing war in 1999 to halt Serb ethnic cleansing and killing of Albanian civilians.

Mediators from the United States, Russia and the European Union are trying to bridge the gap before they report to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Dec. 10, after which Kosovo Albanians have said they will unilaterally declare independence.

''The danger is there. With a set time and a default position that amounts to their maximalist demands, what interest could the Kosovo Albanians have in negotiating in good faith?'' Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told rights body the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. ''As paradoxical as it may seem, without a deadline, minds in Belgrade as well as Pristina will focus on the means to reach a negotiated solution,'' he added.

The United States and European Union see December 10 as a deadline for the talks, but Russia and Serbia do not.

The United States and most of the 27 EU members are thought to be ready to recognise a Kosovan declaration of independence, though Germany is doubtful and half a dozen states are opposed.

Serbia and Russia rejected a plan by Finnish mediator Martti Ahtisaari, drafted after 13 months of sterile Serb-Albanian talks, advocating EU-supervised independence with broad autonomy for Kosovo's Serb minority.

Moscow threatened to veto a Western-backed resolution at the UN Security Council and instead forced a new round of talks.

''Certain members of the international community have told Belgrade and Pristina that they will impose the province's independence on Serbia and the region if we do not reach agreement by December 10,'' Jeremic said.

REUTERS JK RAI1941

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