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France rejects more Kosovo talks, urges EU unity

Written by: Staff

Pristina, Serbia, Mar 23: France rebuffed a Russian call for more talks on the fate of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo and called on the European Union to unite behind a plan for its independence.

''All parties have had ample time to express themselves,'' Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told a news conference in Kosovo yesterday after meeting leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority.

''We don't see what would advance it (the plan), and I am particularly addressing those who want new negotiations,'' he said. ''In the absence of a negotiated solution this is the best we can get.'' France and other Western powers want the UN Security Council to vote by mid-year to give Kosovo 'supervised independence', eight years since they went to war to wrest control of the territory from Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia.

The blueprint drafted by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari is due to reach the UN Security Council on Monday, after the former Finnish president called a halt this month to over a year of fruitless Serb-Albanian dialogue in Vienna.

His plan argues that independence is ''the only viable option''. But it also provides for a powerful EU overseer and broad self-government for the remaining 100,000 Serbs.

UN veto holder Russia, which backs Serbia, this week called for the talks to continue, if necessary under a new mediator.

The solution must be acceptable to the 90-per cent Albanian majority but also to the Serbs, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Ahtisaari says that goal is unreachable.

Serbia rejects independence, but the United States and major EU countries -- leading 16,500 NATO soldiers in the impoverished province -- fear further delay on Kosovo's status could trigger violence by extremists against Serbs and the UN mission.

Ten thousand Albanians died and almost one million fled during Serbia's 1998-99 counter-insurgency war against Albanian separatist guerrillas, which drew NATO into its first ''humanitarian'' intervention to drive out Serb forces.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned on Wednesday of ''chaos'' and ''conflict'' if Ahtisaari's plan collapsed.

Douste-Blazy said it was crucial to secure unanimity within the EU, where some of the 27 members are nervous about the ramifications for other parts of the world of a UN decision to amputate 15 per cent of Serbian territory.

''It is important to show to the Russians that the Kosovo issue is very specific,'' he said, ''...that no country has anything to fear from such a status.''


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