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U.N.-Backed Talks Deadlock Over Kosovo Status

Kosovo asked NATO Thursday to secure a large reservoir in the north of the province to ensure vital water supplies are not cut off by Serbs should Kosovo Albanian leaders decide to declare independence from Serbia in the coming weeks. Such a declaration is being supported by the majority of European Union countries.

“The potential for a negotiated solution is now exhausted,” the EU ambassadors at the talks and the United States said in a joint statement Wednesday.

British Ambassador John Sauers told the Associated Press that the meeting “underlined just how enormous the gulf is between the two parties,” and he described the current situation in Kosovo as “unsustainable.”

Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo’s population and have long sought independence. Serbia, with Russia as an ally, offered Albanians autonomy, but not sovereignty, saying the province is part of the heartland.

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia, which takes over the rotating EU presidency in the new year, told a press conference Thursday that the EU will guide Kosovo toward independence.

“If I interpret the mood right in the EU, we are prepared to recognize the reality that exists in the Western Balkans,” Rupel said.

The EU will take over police duties from the United Nations, which has had control over Kosovo since NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end ethnic cleansing by Serb forces fighting separatist Albanians.

The ethnic minority Serbs in northern Kosovo have said they will reject a declaration of independence by Albanians, along with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

“Will for the first time in the U.N.’s history a decision be taken — contrary to the will of a democratic state and, what is more, of a U.N. founding member — to redraw its internationally recognized borders, to abolish its sovereignty and to amputate 15 percent of its territory?” he said in a statement.

Fatmir Sejdiu, the president of Kosovo, said the region is ready to move forward.

“We are exhausted after nearly two decades of isolation, war and political limbo,” Sejdiu said, reported the AP. “Lack of clarity about our status has held back our economy, discouraged international investment and prevented us from accessing international financial institution lending.”

Few expected the U.N. Security Council talks to reconcile the two parties. U.S., EU and Russian mediators reported last month that more than two years of talks between Belgrade and Kosovo ended without settling the issue of sovereignty.

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made, told the AP that Wednesday’s session would likely bring to an end the council’s discussion and predicted the EU would probably take up the Kosovo issue in February after Serb elections.