German Defense Minister Heads to Balkans for Kosovo Talks | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.08.2007
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German Defense Minister Heads to Balkans for Kosovo Talks

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung leaves later on Wednesday for a three-day visit to the Balkans, where the status of Kosovo is to be the focus of talks.

Germany's Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung stands next to Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku

Jung (left), pictured with Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku, last visited Kosovo in May

The ministry of defense in Berlin said in a press release that the links between the respective countries and European-Atlantic security structures would also be a central part of the discussions.

Jung begins his trip with a visit to Croatia, where he is to meet President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader as well as other government officials. The next day, Jung travels to Macedonia and Albania.

On Friday, Jung visits to Kosovo where he meets with President Fatmir Sejdiu. There, he is also to attend the formal handing over from German to French command of the approximately 16,000-strong NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeeping contingent.

Growing tension

A German KFOR soldier protects a Serbian church in Kosovo

Germany is just one of 34 countries whose troops are under KFOR command

On the eve of Jung's departure, the outgoing German commander in Kosovo, Lieutenant-General Roland Kather, warned of "increased nervousness" in the province and called for a swift decision on Kosovo's status.

Although Kosovo is still officially part of Serbia, the province has been administered by the United Nations since 1999. Its 90 percent Albanian majority are demanding independence, a move flatly rejected by Serbia, who says it can only offer broad autonomy.

"From my responsibility as KFOR commander, we need the decision on the final status of Kosovo as soon as possible," Kather told a farewell news conference. "We need it because everybody is waiting. We need it to come up with economic development, and by that, at the same time to provide for security."

New round of Kosovo talks

Meanwhile, negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo return to Vienna on Thursday to meet envoys from the troika of the United States, European Union and Russia in the latest bid for a deal on the fate of Kosovo.

The new round of talks was called after Russia rejected a UN draft resolution granting Kosovo independence under EU supervision. The plan was prepared by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari following 13 months of negotiations.

An Albanian man in Kosovo stands near a graffiti, reading Self-determination

An Albanian man in Kosovo stands near a graffiti, reading "Self-determination"

At the beginning of the week, Ahtisaari said chances of a Serb-Albanian deal were nil. The EU should push ahead to implement his plan as soon as the troika reports back.

"It is high time to move from the conflict-management phase to the endgame," he told a forum in Bled, Slovenia.

"Otherwise the stalemate will persist, but the EU cannot afford Kosovo to become just another frozen conflict," the former Finnish president said. "Doing nothing is not an option."

On Monday, Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said he expects Kosovo to declare independence and seek recognition from its Western backers right after talks with Serbia close on Dec. 10.

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