Russia says Kosovo talks must go on after Dec. 10

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MOSCOW, Oct 17 (Reuters) Russia said today talks over the future of the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo should not end on Dec. 10, the date after which Kosovo Albanians have threatened to declare independence.

''The negotiation process does not end on Dec. 10 ... We do not see Dec. 10 as some kind of a watershed. It is just a completion of a stage,'' Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's envoy to the European Union, told reporters via a video link from Brussels.

Dec. 10 is the deadline for a troika of international mediators trying to broker a solution on Kosovo's future status to submit its report to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

The United States and EU, who with Russia are the parties to the talks, say the troika should wrap up its talks by that date -- a position that has put them at odds with Moscow.

Kosovo's majority Albanian population wants to split from Serbia and declare its independence by the end of this year, whether or not there is a negotiated solution by then.

Serbia does not want an independent Kosovo. Russia has backed Serbia and blocked a proposal by a United Nations envoy that would have set Kosovo on the path to independence.

Chizhov said after the troika submits its report, ''the secretary-general will decide what to do next: either to ask the troika to continue its work, or create a new format, or the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians will by then (reach an agreement).'' ''There are some modest steps in this direction. At least there is direct dialogue between the Kosovo Albanians and Serbs,'' Chizov, a former Balkan envoy and one of Russia's most senior diplomats, told a news conference.

''It would be premature and risky to speak about a breakthrough,'' he said. ''But let us hope that in the time we have until Dec 10 enough positive elements will be accumulated and negotiations will be continued.'' Talks between the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, mediated by the troika, resume in Vienna on Oct 22.

Though they agree talks should be wrapped up by Dec 10, Western powers are not united on what to do next.

The United States is pushing for a decision on Kosovo's fate soon after. The EU says the deadline stands, but is split on recognising Kosovo without a compromise deal.

REUTERS PD ND1520

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