Kosovo talks resume, time running out

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VIENNA, Nov 5 (Reuters) International mediators tried today to coax Serbs and Albanians towards common ground on Kosovo but said they had yet to tackle the crunch issue of statehood with only a month to go before talks are due to end.

The meeting in Vienna was the fourth since August, when envoys from the United States, Russia and the European Union began searching for compromise between Serbia's offer of autonomy and the Kosovo Albanian demand for independence.

There is no deal in sight on the final status of Kosovo, which is threatening to declare independence once talks end on Dec. 10.

On the table are 14 points of potential agreement drafted by the 'troika'. They state that Belgrade ''will not govern Kosovo'' nor ''re-establish a physical presence'' in a province wrested from Serb control by NATO bombers in 1999.

EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger said the proposals were ''status neutral''.

''They do not prejudice the outcome of the status,'' he told reporters before talks began. ''But they describe what in our view, if the parties could reach agreement on status, what kind of relationship they could create.'' He said the ''endgame'' was near, but urged patience.

''In this kind of negotiating process it would be a big surprise if, when you have 120 days, the result would be presented after 60 or 90 days. We'll use the 120 days to the fullest extent possible.'' Kosovo Albanian leaders, arriving in Vienna yesterday evening, said they would move quickly to a declaration of independence after the Dec. 10 deadline for the mediators to report back to the United Nations.

Kosovo negotiator Veton Surroi said the troika's 14 points represented the ''framework for future relations between two states'' - an interpretation shared by Western diplomats.

Kosovo, where 90 percent of the two million people are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO drove out Serb forces to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians in a two-year war with guerrillas.

Moscow has blocked UN adoption of a Western-backed plan for independence under EU supervision, leaving in place UN Resolution 1244 of June 1999, which affirms the sovereignty of then Yugoslavia, to which Serbia is the successor state.

But diplomats say Western capitals are working on a way around the document, to allow the EU to deploy a 1,800-strong police mission and for individual countries - led by the United States, Britain and France - to recognise the new state.

NATO allies with 16,000 troops on the ground fear Albanian frustration could turn to unrest.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica raised the stakes last week when he linked the fate of Kosovo with Bosnia, where Serbs say their autonomy since the 1992-95 war is under threat.

Analysts say he is trying to sow division among Western powers who have indicated they would recognise Kosovo statehood and risk the nationalist fallout in Serbia.

REUTERS PD HT1508

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