08 December 2006

Kosovo leaders express dissatisfaction with delay of report on province's future status

Associated Press, Friday, November 10, 2006 10:49 AM


PRISTINA, Serbia-Kosovo's leaders expressed distress Friday after the U.N. envoy for the province said he would wait until after Serbian elections in January to present his report on the future of the province.


President Fatmir Sejdiu said Kosovo's five-member negotiating team felt "deep regret" for the delay in settling the province's political status.


"We're particularly disturbed that this delay is linked to the parliamentary elections in Serbia," Sejdiu told reporters after the delegation held an urgent meeting.


Martti Ahtisaari, the U.N.'s chief negotiator on Kosovo, said Friday he would delay the presentation of a report on the future of the province until after the Serbian elections.


Fearing the move will divide Kosovo's leadership, the top U.N. official in the province called upon the leaders "to avoid even the perception of unilateral action that might undermine support for Kosovo at this crucial time."


"There are many compelling reasons to come to clarity on Kosovo's status as soon as possible," Joachim Ruecker said.


Tensions have been running high between the province's majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs as the province seeks to settle its political status in U.N.-led talks between Kosovo leaders and their counterparts in Serbia.


The province is officially part of Serbia, but has been administered by the U.N. since a 1999 NATO air war to halt a crackdown by Belgrade against ethnic Albanian rebels seeking independence.


Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians insist on full independence, while the minority Serbs want it to remain under Belgrade's control.


Senior Kosovo negotiator and former rebel leader Hashim Thaci played down fears that the province might make a one-sided move and declare independence regardless the outcome of the talks.


"We do not want an isolated independence, we want an integrated one," said Thaci, who now heads the biggest ethnic Albanian opposition party.


Sejdiu called for calm, among fears that incidents between ethnic Albanians and Serbs could pitch the province back into violence.


An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed by Serbian forces during the 1998-99 war and close to a million were forced out into neighboring Albania and Macedonia. The conflict ended after NATO's 78-day air war ousted Serbian troops from Kosovo and installed a U.N. administration.


Western powers and Russia have endorsed the U.N. brokered talks to begin almost a year ago, but are keen on postponing the solution - possibly painful for Belgrade - fearing a hasty end to the talks might bring radical forces back to power in fragile Serbia.