17 March 2006

Serbian President Regrets He's Not Welcome At Rugova's Funeral

SERBIANNA (USA), January 25, 2006 13:01 ET (18:01 GMT)


BELGRADE (AP)--Serbia's pro-Western president said Wednesday he "deeply regretted" that he isn't welcome at the funeral of Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova, saying an opportunity was missed to forge a new start in relations between the two communities.


Boris Tadic said in a statement that despite his disappointment, he respected the stand of the Rugova family to whom the "presence of a Serbian president was unacceptable."


Tadic Monday expressed a desire to attend Rugova's funeral Thursday in Kosovo and said he would ask permission of the U.N. mission running the restive province.


Rugova died Saturday in Pristina, the provincial capital, months after having been diagnosed with lung cancer. The death of the 61-year-old leader left Kosovo's political scene in disarray, occurring days before U.N.-mediated talks with the Belgrade government were to begin on whether the province will become an independent country or remain part of Yugoslavia, which includes Serbia.


"My desire was to pay respects to a man who was of a different political persuasion than myself, but who campaigned peacefully for his ideas and who was the legitimate representative of the Kosovo Albanians," Tadic said.


Rugova was considered a political adversary by Belgrade for his insistence that Kosovo be granted full independence from Serbia. He espoused a nonviolent campaign that won him international respect.


"Unfortunately neither political representatives of the Kosovo Albanians nor the international community realized what a chance this was for us to start changing relations between Serbs and (ethnic) Albanians," Tadic said.


"If the presence of a Serbian president at a funeral in Pristina is unacceptable, the begging question is whether we are acceptable to one another and whether we shall ever be so in the future," he said.


Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.


No Serbia-Montenegro officials will be among those attending Rugova's funeral.