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U.N. special envoy begins his eight-week Kosovo assessment

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Pristina (dpa) - United Nations special envoy Kai Eide arrived in Pristina Monday on an eight-week fact-finding mission to evaluate Kosovo's readiness for negotiations on final status, loosely scheduled start later this year.

''I will deliver the report to U.N. Secretary General. My work has started today,'' Eide told reporters in Pristina. ''I will not read many papers, but rather see myself what is the situation on the ground.''

The U.N. appointed the Norwegian last week to assess Kosovo's accomplishments in fulfilling a set of democratic standards, defined as the main precondition for starting final status talks.

Those eight points, drafted by United States and Contact Group of eight western powers, include rule of law, decentralization, and a complex set of security and minority protection regulations that need to be fully implemented prior to negotiations.

Eide's arrival in Pristina is widely seen as a logical continuation of the international community's effort to solve the problem of Kosovo's status after six years of U.N. protectorate.

The Norwegian already drafted a special report in mid-2004, following two-days of Albanian riots which served as clear indicator that the current political limbo in the ethnically-divided province cannot continue indefinitely.

The exact date of negotiations has not yet been set, but Western diplomats hinted that leaders from Belgrade and Pristina, bitterly opposed over the issue, might engage in opening talks in autumn.

U.S. officials, who will be actively engaged in status talks, said they expect a positive evaluation of democratic standards and minority issues, and pledged Washington's full support for their Kosovars' ''wish to determine their own future''.

Kosovo, formally part of Serbia, has been run by a United Nations mission since 1999, when NATO bombing ended a Serb crackdown on Kosovo's separatist ethnic Albanians.

The status of the province remains unresolved, with Kosovan Albanians demanding full independence and Serbia offering ''wide autonomy''.

Kosovo Albanian leaders, including President Ibrahim Rugova, have already rejected the possibility of the province's future status being determined after negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. dpa ra sc

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