17 December 2006

Kosovo premier says delay in resolving province's status will not affect process

Associated Press, Wednesday, November 15, 2006 3:12 PM

ATHENS, Greece-A U.N. decision to postpone a report on Kosovo's final status is disappointing, but will not affect the outcome of the negotiations, the province's ethnic Albanian prime minister said Wednesday.

The U.N. special envoy on Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, said last week he would put off submitting his proposal for Kosovo's future status until after Serbia held parliamentary elections on Jan. 21.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said he saw "no strong reason" for the postponement, but that if Ahtisaari has hoping "to help stability and democratic courses in Serbia, that is a good reason."

"This delay is about a few weeks, and we believe it will not affect the outcome of the process," Ceku said during a speech in Athens. "Although we are dissatisfied, we can live with that."

Ahtisaari had initially planned to present his proposal, expected to involve some form of independence for Kosovo, to the U.N. Security Council by the end of 2006.

Nominally a province of Serbia, Kosovo has been an international protectorate since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, some 90 percent of the population, wants full independence, while Belgrade seeks to retain some form of control over the province it regards as the cradle of Serbian culture.

Ceku, who met Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis earlier Wednesday, insisted that full independence supervised by the international community with full guarantees for minority rights was "the only workable solution for Kosovo."

"We are in the last kilometer of a marathon," he said. "We have the opportunity to build a lasting peace ... Kosovo is a working country."

Ceku called on the province's Serb minority to stay in Kosovo.

"We are trying to reassure Serbs that they have a future in Kosovo, and I think that remains the biggest challenge, but the majority of the Kosovo people want the Serbs and other minorities to stay and have a dignified life in Kosovo."

He said the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, or KFOR, should stay in place after the province's status was settled, saying "KFOR has done a great job, and we need KFOR for a couple more years."