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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Q&A: Kosovo-Serbia talks

Talks are taking place in Vienna between officials from Serbia and Kosovo. It is the first formal, high-level meeting between the two sides since the Kosovo war, which ended in March 1999. BBC News Online provides the background.

What are the talks about?

They are about practical issues: transport and communications; energy; missing persons; and the return of Serb refugees to Kosovo. They are not about Kosovo's long-term future - as part of Serbia or as an independent state. The idea is to start a dialogue and to build trust before broaching the most complicated problem. Tuesday's talks are little more than a publicity launch. They will be followed by lengthy negotiations by lower-ranking officials.

What was the war about?

In 1989 Slobodan Milosevic imposed direct rule on Kosovo - previously an autonomous province of Serbia. The repression that followed created growing resentment among Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, who now account for about 90% of its two million inhabitants. A police crackdown in 1998 triggered an uprising among the ethnic Albanians. Further acts of brutality against Albanian civilians led to a military intervention by Nato to avert, as it put it, "a humanitarian catastrophe".

Who won?

Nato's bombing campaign forced the Serbian security forces to withdraw from Kosovo in 1999. Ethnic Albanian refugees returned to the province, and many Serbs fled.

Who has been in control since the war?

Since 1999 Kosovo has been, in effect, a UN protectorate, run by the United Nations' Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Security has been provided by a Nato-led peacekeeping force, known as K-For. A 120-member national assembly was elected in 2001, with at least 10 seats reserved for members from the Serbian minority, and at lesat 10 for other ethnic minorities. The members of the assembly elected a president, and a government with limited powers was established. UNMIK has retained control of foreign affairs, monetary policy, justice and public order.

Is Kosovo part of Serbia?

It certainly was before the conflict, and in the run-up to these talks, the Serbian parliament reaffirmed Serbia's sovereignty over the province. However, UN Resolution 1244 envisages a self-governing Kosovo within the framework of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia itself has since gone out of existence, and the loose union of Serbia and Montenegro which took its place may itself split in two eventually.

What does each side want now?

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians want independence, while the Serb minority - estimated at up to 10% in the 1980s, and roughly 5% after the population movements of 1999 - wants to remain part of Serbia. Serbia wants to hang on to Kosovo, though some politicians have indicated they would be prepared to discuss alternatives in the interests of Balkan stability.

Who is attending the talks?

Kosovo's prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, whose party is the successor to the wartime KLA guerrilla force, is the most conspicuous absentee. But president Ibrahim Rugova is there to represent the province's ethnic Albanians, along with the speaker of the Kosovo Assembly, Nexhat Daci. Top Serbian government officials are attending, including Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, and the EU has sent its top two foreign and security chiefs, Javier Solana and Chris Patten. Nato's outgoing Secretary-General, George Robertson, is also there.

Kosovo's deep divide
13 Oct 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia and Montenegro
01 Oct 03  |  Country profiles
In pictures: Displaced lives
27 Aug 03  |  In Pictures

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