Envoys try to work around impasse in Kosovo talks

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VIENNA, Oct 22 (Reuters) Envoys mediating in talks on the future of Kosovo today presented ideas to Serbia and Kosovo Albanians aimed at breaking the deadlock over the Albanian demand for the province's independence.

The diplomatic trio has until December 10 to bridge the chasm between Serbia's offer of broad autonomy and Kosovo's insistence on statehood after eight years under UN stewardship.

''Without some real help ... the two sides under their own steam would not be able to reach agreement,'' EU mediator Wolfgang Ischinger said.

Ischinger, with his American and Russian colleagues in the mediating ''troika'', presented the two sides with 14 points of potential agreement at the Vienna meeting, their third round of face-to-face talks in the past two months.

The document says Belgrade ''will not govern'' Kosovo and ''will not re-establish a physical presence'' in the province. But it avoids any reference to independence, which has been blocked by Serbia's ally Russia.

Serb negotiators said Kosovo's 90-per cent Albanian majority should be allowed to run its internal affairs, but foreign policy and borders would be controlled by Belgrade.

These, said Serb Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic, ''are the minimum of competencies that Serbia should maintain in order to preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity''.

Kosovo Albanian spokesman Skender Hyseni said Pristina was demanding independence, ''with a seat at the United Nations''.

Kosovo Albanian negotiator Hashim Thaci said he expected ''decisions to be taken and recognition of independence'' after December 10.

There is no possibility of a UN Security Council resolution giving Kosovo the attributes of full statehood unless Serbia and Russia, which commands a veto, drop their opposition.

NATO BRACED The Albanians say they are prepared to declare independence with or without a deal and then count on recognition from their friends in the West. Washington is pushing the EU to stand firm and recognise an independent Kosovo. But the 27-member bloc is split on how to act.

In Kiev, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said NATO allies should plan for the talks' failure.

''We are giving the troika talks a chance, but we are realistic,'' he told a defence forum. ''Nations must plan for what happens after December 10 NATO should complete planning now for the Ahtisaari-directed missions.'' A proposal for EU-supervised independence, drafted by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, has been blocked at the UN Security Council by Russia. But the West says it remains on the table in the event the new talks fail.

Russia wants talks to continue until a solution is agreed, irrespective of the December 10 deadline when mediators are due to report to the United Nations.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, after NATO bombed the province for 11 weeks to stop Serb forces killing and expelling Albanian civilians indiscriminately in an attempt to crush a guerrilla insurgency.

Gates called on the 35 nations with troops in Kosovo to keep them there regardless of the outcome. NATO's 16,000-strong peace force is braced for violence if Albanians lose patience and strike out alone.


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