United States blocks Kosovo deal, says Serbian PM

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BELGRADE, Oct 16 (Reuters) Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica accused the United States today of actively blocking a compromise solution for the breakaway province of Kosovo, whose Albanian majority demands independence.

''Every day, statements by American officials that Kosovo will become independent after Dec. 10 ... aim to stop Kosovo Albanians from accepting a compromise solution for the province,'' he said in a statement.

The official news agency Tanjug quoted Kostunica as saying Washington's policy of ''force'' was an extension of NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbia ''to deploy military forces in the province to take away 15 percent of our territory''.

The statement echoed previous Serb charges that NATO, led by America, wants its own state in the Balkans, on Serb territory.

NATO denies that and insists its intervention was aimed solely at stopping atrocities and ethnic cleansing by Serb forces.

There is no sign that Kosovo Albanian leaders would be open to compromise on independence, which has been the number one objective of the 90 percent Albanian majority since the United Nations took over Kosovo over eight years ago.

Western diplomats say Serb leaders need to come to terms with the fact that Serbia will not rule Kosovo again.

They say the status quo -- in which Kosovo is legally Serbian but actually an international protectorate -- is unstable and that trying to preserve it via Belgrade's offer of ''95 percent autonomy'' is bad for Serbia's own interests.

Some analysts see the prospect of a outcome which one side can claim is independence while the other claims it is not.

In Rome, visiting Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic suggested Kosovo could have nearly all the attributes of an independent state except a seat at the United Nations, if only it would compromise and accept Serb terms.

''Serbia is prepared to keep only a very narrowly defined set of sovereign competences ... for example, the seat on the United Nations,'' Jeremic said. While Kosovo might declare independence unilaterally, he said, it could not secure a UN seat that way.

Backed at the UN by Russia, Serbia earlier this year succeeded in stalling a plan for Kosovo independence under European Union supervision, as devised by U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari after a year of talks failed to find compromise.

Serbs and Kosovo Albanians are now engaged in a fresh round of talks, mediated by the EU, the U S and Russia, who all insist they would prefer an agreement acceptable to both sides.

But U S State Department spokesman Tom Casey on Monday repeated that if the negotiations failed to reach an agreement by Dec. 10, then ''we think independence is the solution''.

The 27-member EU is split over how to respond if Kosovo declares independence unilaterally. Serbia's efforts to single out the United States as driving Western policy on Kosovo may be aimed at weakening EU support for its assertive policy.

The talks were due to resume yesterday in Vienna.

REUTERS RSA RN2054

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