US, Russia clash at UN over Kosovo future

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 10 (Reuters) The United States and Russia clashed anew over Kosovo, as Washington's UN envoy said Serb-Albanian talks needed to end in two months while Moscow's called for them to carry on until agreement.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said a premature end to negotiations, leading Kosovo Albanians to declare independence, would destabilize the region, a prospect he described as unacceptable.

But US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said what would be destabilizing is prolonged further uncertainty over the future of the Serbian province, which has been under UN administration for the past eight years.

The UN Security Council has given Belgrade and the ethnic Albanians who make up 90 per cent of Kosovo's population until December 10 to try to agree on whether the province would be independent or an autonomous region of Serbia.

But, speaking after the council was briefed by UN Kosovo envoy Joachim Ruecker, Churkin said, ''One should not have the impression that somehow December 10th is necessarily the end of the world as far as the negotiating process is concerned.'' Churkin, whose country strongly supports Serbia, told reporters that at that point the council could decide to continue the talks. He called on the international community to make the parties focus on a negotiated outcome.

''The other scenario is unacceptable, because any kind of hypothetical scenarios of unilateral proclamations of independence will get nobody anywhere,'' he said. ''There will be no stability in Kosovo, no stability in the region and no stability internationally.'' FINAL STATUS But Khalilzad said most council members agreed the negotiation ''needs to be terminated'' on December 10.

''One cannot continue indefinitely with the situation without clarifying final status because (of) the potential for destabilizing Kosovo,'' he told reporters. ''Time is running out.'' Leaders of Kosovo's 2 million Albanians, whose 1998-99 guerrilla war drew in NATO intervention to halt Serb atrocities, are threatening to declare independence if the talks end in December with no accord.

The Serbs and Kosovo Albanians held face-to-face talks in New York on September 28. Neither side reported a shift in position, but Churkin said yesterday there had been ''some indication of a possibility of progress.'' Both Ruecker and Khalilzad said many council members had said it was important for Kosovo's Serb minority to vote in parliamentary elections there on November 17 and deplored what they said were attempts by Belgrade to discourage them.

''I have actually asked (Serbian) Prime Minister (Vojislav) Kostunica to make sure that there are no such direct or indirect calls any more,'' Ruecker told journalists. He said he had also asked Kostunica to make sure that Serbs who have fled Kosovo could vote.

Kostunica and Serbian President Boris Tadic said last month that conditions had not been met for Serbs to take part in the elections.

Reuters TB VP0448

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