The territory, which has a 90 per cent ethnic Albanian population, has been run by the United Nations (UN) and patrolled by Nato since 1999, when Nato drove out Serbian forces to halt atrocities against ethnic Albanians in a two-year war between Belgrade's troops and the separatists.
 
Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are expected to hold direct negotiations on the territory's future on Friday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
 
Pristina has seen small bomb attacks at times of political tension over the past three years. Mafia feuds are also common.
 
The West supports independence, but Serbia's ally Russia has blocked a plan for Kosovo's statehood at the UN Security Council. The talks began last month under the mediation of the United States, Russia and the European Union (EU).
 
They have to report back to the UN by December 10, when Washington says a decision must be made. Moscow rejects any deadline, saying talks should continue until the two sides reach agreement.
 
But the West fears Albanian frustration could turn to violence. Leaders of Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians have threatened to declare independence with or without a UN resolution after the talks end.
 
The EU is split on whether to recognise Kosovo without UN blessing.