Kosovo Albanian leaders meet mediators in London

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LONDON, Sep 19 (Reuters) Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders held talks today with international mediators on the hotly disputed future of the breakaway province, ahead of direct dialogue with Serbia next week in New York.

The president and prime minister of the Albanian-majority territory were meeting with a mediating ''troika'' of envoys from the United States, Russia and the European Union, who saw the Serbian delegation in London yesterday.

The Kosovo Albanians insist Serbia should concede the territory as already lost and move on to a brighter future in the European Union.

''Independence isn't on the agenda. It's a fact,'' Prime Minister Agim Ceku told reporters as he went into talks. Ceku said he wanted to present Kosovo's proposed treaty for good future relations with Serbia, between two equal and independent states.

Yesterday,Serbia repeated its opposition to independence, in which it has won Russian support.

Belgrade lost control over Kosovo in 1999, after NATO bombed for 11 weeks to drive out Serb forces and halt the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a two-year war with separatist rebels.

Eight years later, Moscow has blocked a Western-backed plan for EU-supervised independence at the UN Security Council after 13 months of fruitless UN-led talks, forcing another bid for compromise that began last month in Vienna.

The first face-to-face talks of this round are due in New York on September 28 on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The troika is due to report back to the United Nations by December 10, when the West says a decision must be taken.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday rejected any ''artificial deadlines'', but his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, said in Moscow the process ''should not be eternal''.

Under intense public pressure, the Albanians are threatening to declare independence after December 10 regardless.

Observers say this could split the 27-member EU, between those ready to recognise Kosovo and those more worried about the precedent it might set for other parts of the world.

EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger said he was confident of EU unity.


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