ZAGREB, Croatia, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Germany’s defense minister left for the Balkans Wednesday for talks with leaders there on the status of the Serbian breakaway province of Kosovo.
The three-day trip first takes German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung to Zagreb, Croatia, where he will lead talks with the country’s main political leaders, including President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Santander. On Thursday, Jung will head to Macedonia and Albania.
The talks in all three countries will focus on the status of Kosovo. The Serbian province has for years demanded independence from Belgrade. Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombing ended a bloody war between Serbian troops and Albanian rebels.
Belgrade is unwilling to grant independence to Kosovo; efforts to resolve its status have culminated in U.N.-led compromise talks based on a proposal drafted by U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland.
The so-called Ahtisaari plan stipulates broad independence for Kosovo (without explicitly naming the devil) and secures rights and protection for the Serb minority living in the province.
However, talks based on the Ahtisaari plan between Belgrade and Pristina, observed by the larger Contact Group -- comprised of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia -- earlier this year ended without result.
Germany is among the countries trying to revive a compromise, but other observers have called on the international community to go ahead with Kosovo’s independence and ignore Serbia’s and Russia’s objections.
Jung on Friday is due to arrive in Kosovo to meet with President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Agim Hasan Ceku and leading NATO generals.
Jung will also attend the formal handing over from German to French command of the approximately 16,000-strong NATO Kosovo Force peacekeeping troops. With some 2,250 troops, Germany is KFOR's largest contributor.