12 November 2006

US urges Kosovo Albanian calm during Serb vote

Agence France Presse, Wed Oct 25, 10:35 AM ET

A senior US envoy warned Kosovo's majority Albanians to remain calm during a weekend referendum in which minority Serbs will vote on a contentious new constitution.

"I know that a number of Kosovo Serbs will vote at the referendum, and that is their right," Frank Wisner, the special US envoy in UN-backed talks on Kosovo's future status, said on a visit to the provincial capital Pristina.

"I know that I can count on all of my Albanian Kosovar friends to let that process take place in peace and calm and understanding," he said.

The referendum will be held this weekend across Serbia, including its disputed southern province of Kosovo, which has been run by the United Nations and NATO since its 1998-1999 war.

Wisner said UN-backed talks on Kosovo's future status were set to be completed by the year's end, despite concerns the referendum, if approved by voters, would lead to Serbian general elections that could delay the process.

Kosovo is expected to gain a form of independence in UN-backed talks by the year's end, and Wisner admitted as much by saying "few of us have any doubts what final status means".

"We stand almost at the end of a decision that will be of fundamental importance for the future of Kosovo," Wisner told journalists after meeting with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian prime minister, Agim Ceku.

"What happens to you is a Kosovar matter and an international matter. It's not a matter of Serbian sovereignty, which changed when the UN agreed on (Security Council Resolution) 1244," he added.

Under 1244, Kosovo technically remains part of Serbia but has been administered by the United Nations since the end of the conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serbian forces in mid-1999.

Wisner's two-day visit to Kosovo came ahead of the constitutional referendum to be held in Serbia on October 28-29. The constitution, adopted unanimously by the republic's parliament last month, declares Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo.