"It's more of a ground-laying, setting the framework ... for the rest of the troika's work.''

Total independence

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians – 90 per cent of the two million-strong population – want independence.
 
Earlier this year, George Bush, the US president, lent his support to that wish but his comments caused anger as total independence for Kosovo is unacceptable to the Serbs and their supporters in Moscow.

Kosovo talks

"We're not expecting any substantial shifts in positions or any major outcome from this particular meeting."

British Foreign Ministry spokesman

In the late 1990s the then Serb government - led by Slobodan Milosevic - launched a vicious crackdown on the ethnic Albanians.

Thousands were killed; hundreds of thousands fled.

The humanitarian crisis prompted action and after 11 weeks of intensive bombing, an international force mandated by the UN took control in Kosovo.

Little progress

The UN administered peace, but little progress was made towards a more permanent solution.

In February 2007, a UN compromise plan for "internationally supervised independence" failed when the Russians threatened a veto.

Last month, the EU created the troika – with members from Russia, Europe and the US – to try to break the deadlock.

However, Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general, wants a result by December 10th - leaving the troika with just 120 days to find an answer.

With both sides so entrenched, there are fears that a forced compromise could lead to violence.