03 April 2006

Serbia's president warns Kosovo independence could destabilize Balkan region

Associated Press, Mar 07, 2006 9:03 AM


NICOSIA, Cyprus-Serbian President Boris Tadic warned on Tuesday that independence for the disputed province of Kosovo could destabilize the whole Balkan region.


"Kosovo is part of Serbia-Montenegro. Independence for Kosovo could destabilize all Balkan states," Tadic said after meeting Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iakovou. He did not elaborate.


The president said Serbia recognized the rights of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo but also supported the rights of Serbs and Serbia.


"A solution of the problem will be achieved through the ongoing talks," the Serbian president said. "Serbia favors a solution that will work for all living in Kosovo."


The province has been a de facto U.N. protectorate since the end of the 1998-99 war there between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serb forces.


Officials from Belgrade and Pristina, the capital of the province, met earlier this month in Vienna for the first round of talks on Kosovo's future. The talks are to continue until March 17, and Western officials want a solution by the end of 2006.


Ethnic Albanians, who comprise about 90 percent of the province's population of 2 million, want independence but Serbs claim the province as the cradle of their culture and want Belgrade to retain overall control.


Tadic also said he was in favor of keeping the current union with Monetenegro, but Serbia would not get involved in the May 21 independence referendum there.


"The result of the referendum will be respected by Serbia and I hope it will take place in a peaceful atmosphere," Tadic said.


The Serbia and Montenegro are the only two republics that stayed together after the breakup of Yugoslavia in a series of wars in the 1990s.