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Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 10:28 GMT
Time up for Kosovo status talks
K-For soldiers patrol the ethnic Serb Zakonice monastery in Kosovo
Nato troops are stationed around Kosovo to protect Serb enclaves
A UN deadline for agreement on the future of Kosovo is set to expire after months of talks failed to break deadlock over the fate of the region.

Kosovo is still a province of Serbia, but ethnic Albanian leaders there have threatened to declare independence unilaterally after the deadline passes.

Nato - fearing a violent Serb reaction - has said it will keep 16,000 troops in Kosovo to deter any clashes.

EU diplomats say they are close to reaching a unified position on Kosovo.

EU deliberations

Foreign ministers from the EU are meeting in Brussels ahead of a leaders' summit on Friday.

Member states have been divided over whether to recognise a Kosovan declaration of independence, correspondents say, which is expected early next year.

Coming into the meeting, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the differences within the bloc over Kosovo were being overcome. He said the EU would meet its "responsibilities" to take over policing duties in the province from the UN.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "there is virtual unity on Kosovo", saying only one country still wanted a UN Security Council resolution before accepting a declaration of independence from Kosovo.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn identified the country as Cyprus, Reuters news agency reported.

Greece, Slovakia and Spain had earlier also been reluctant to endorse a unilateral declaration of independence from Kosovo, fearing it might set a dangerous precedent for separatist movements closer to home.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon set a deadline of 10 December for mediators from the "troika" of the EU, US and Russia to broker a deal between Kosovo and Serbia, but the talks failed.

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"After 120 days of intensive negotiations, the parties were unable to reach an agreement on Kosovo's status," the troika said in the report, obtained by the BBC.

"Neither party was willing to concede its position on the fundamental question of sovereignty on Kosovo," the report concludes.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that recognising a declaration of independence from Kosovo would violate international law.

After holding talks with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos in Cyprus, Mr Lavrov said such recognition would "create a chain reaction throughout the Balkans and other areas of the world".

Risk of flare-up

The UN's top administrator in Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, has put forward a plan offering Kosovo "supervised independence".

Kosovo Albanian leaders Hashim Thaci and Fatmir Sejdiu
Kosovo's Albanian leaders want nothing less than independence

The plan - accepted by the ethnic Albanians - would mean international agencies gradually steer Kosovo's institutions towards independence, while safeguarding the rights and property of the Serb minority.

But Serbia has rejected the plan, insisting that Kosovo must remain an integral part of Serbia.

Belgrade also fears discrimination against ethnic Serbs would go unpunished in an independent Kosovo.

Nato was criticised after it failed to prevent riots by ethnic Albanians in 2004 in which Serbs were attacked. Nineteen people died in the violence.

Though technically part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the UN for the last eight years.

Belgrade's security forces were driven out of Kosovo by a Nato bombing campaign in 1999, launched to stop a violent Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

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