Source AP ©

Serbs and Kosovo Albanians to meet face-to-face

New York will host talks between rival Serbs and Kosovo Albanians later this month to try to break a deadlock over the future of the breakaway province, an official said.

Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said after talks in Belgrade with EU mediator Wolfgang Ischinger late Monday that the meeting will be held Sept. 28 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

He said that an earlier indirect meeting between the two delegations and mediators from the EU, Russia and the United States - the so-called "troika" - will be held later this month in London to prepare for the New York summit.

The international envoys overseeing a last-ditch round of negotiations have said there was no progress earlier last month in an indirect session in Vienna, Austria, on ending the stalemate over Kosovo, with Serbia insisting on keeping the province within its borders, while Kosovo Albanians accepting nothing but independence.

Although Kosovo - where ethnic Albanians represent 90 percent of its 2 million people - remains formally part of Serbia, it has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended a Serbian military crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in the southern province.

With a lingering threat of renewed unrest in Kosovo, its ethnic Albanian leaders have vowed to declare independence if a final push for a diplomatic settlement between now and Dec. 10 doesn't result in statehood.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said after his talks with Ischinger on Monday that the Albanian independence declaration threats "are against international law and are making no sense" of the negotiations.

Tadic reiterated Serbia's stand that the final decision on Kosovo's future must be made by the U.N. Security Council, where Serbia's ally Russia has threatened to veto any decision that is not accepted by Serbia.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, speaking after his meeting with Ischinger on Tuesday, said that Serbia will "annul" any ethnic Albanian declaration of independence, urging the international community to condemn such acts in advance.

Kostunica reiterated that "essential autonomy" was the best solution for Kosovo - an offer the ethnic Albanians have repeatedly rejected in the past.

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