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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 14:57 GMT
UN positive after Kosovo meeting
A woman in a shop in Pristina displaying the Albanian flag
Mediators will push for a settlement to be reached this year
Kosovo Albanians and Serbs have ended two days of talks in Vienna, which diplomats hope may lead to a deal on Kosovo's status this year.

A UN mediator said there had been no "earth-shattering" result but both sides agreed to meet again next month.

The province is still legally part of Serbia and Montenegro - but it has been under UN protection since Nato air strikes forced Serb troops out in 1999.

Kosovo Albanians, which make up the majority, want independence.

Serbia is concerned about the Serb minority.

The UN-appointed mediators have said any deal must reflect what the majority wants.

The two-day talks in Vienna were the first face-to-face meeting between the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians since last year, when the UN Security Council appointed a special mediator to reach a settlement.

Middle-ranking officials met under UN supervision to discuss rival schemes for the devolution of powers from Kosovo's central authorities to the municipalities.

Minority fears

The fact that neither side walked out of the talks is seen as a success in itself, says the BBC's Matt Prodger from Belgrade.

"It was not expected to reach an agreement... but to present various opinions and explore different views, and it was quite successful," UN mediator Albert Rohan told reporters, adding that a further meeting was planned for 17 March.

"This method is not earth-shattering in a political sense but it is important for the life of people in Kosovo," he went on.

Kosovo Serbs want wide-ranging self-government for the Serb-inhabited enclaves, which make up 5% of the population.

There are about 1.5 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, while about 100,000 Serbs remain following a post-war exodus of non-Albanians.

Kosovo Serbs want to remain part of Serbia and Montenegro. They have lived in enclaves protected by Nato peacekeepers since the 1999 war.

Nato launched a 78-day air campaign against Serbia to stop the persecution of ethnic Albanians, some of whom were fighting a guerrilla war for independence.

Rival plans

The Serbs' plan would include control over policing, the judiciary, education, health and the social services. And they argue that these municipalities could be linked into some kind of wider Serb-run entity.

However, correspondents say Kosovo Albanians see the plans as a recipe for partitioning Kosovo along ethnic lines - and have come up with fresh ideas to make Serbs feel more at home.

Details of the precise proposals remain sketchy. But they are believed to include an agreement to allow twinning arrangements between Serb-inhabited municipalities in Kosovo and their bigger and better-funded counterparts in Serbia.

A deal on decentralisation is more than a question of municipal reform, says the BBC's regional analyst Gabriel Partos.

He says it could be the key to creating the right conditions for the Kosovo Serbs to stay - and possibly to accept a settlement that might come close to the Kosovo Albanians' demand for independence.

The six-nation Contact Group - Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the US - which is overseeing the negotiations, has called for a settlement to be reached this year.

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