28 January 2007

Kosovar leader says normalcy will come only through independence

Deutsche Presse Agentur, Thursday November 30, 2006

Moscow- The only way to achieve normalcy and a lasting peace in the Albanian-majority Serbian province of Kosovo is through independence, Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said Thursday in Moscow. The Kosovar leader, speaking on Russian television channel Vesti- 24, also said he was "disappointed" by a United Nations decision to delay publication of a report on the province's status.

Ceku was in Moscow to meet for a meeting earlier in the day with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov - the first official visit the Kosovar leader had made to traditionally pro-Serbian Moscow.

The meeting was considered by analysts to be an attempt to drum up support in Moscow for full Kosovar independence.

The province has been under UN control since 1999, when NATO troops drove out the federal troops of what was then Yugoslavia amid ethnic fighting.

Since that time, Kosovo has officially been a part of Serbia, the Yugoslav successor state. Its status is expected to be definitively decided by the UN Security Council in 2007.

Ceku, a former militant, is the head of the government that has de facto ruled the province alongside UN officials who oversee a substantial range of the region's administrative functions.

The UN's special representative in Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, earlier this month delayed publication of proposals to guide Kosovo, Serbia and the so-called Contact Group of the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Britain in determining the province's status.

Ahtisaari said he would release the report after Serbian elections on January 21.

"For the province (the delay in publication) means economic and political stagnation," Ceku said Thursday on Russian television.

Ceku added that he thought Kosovo's future would be decided "a month or two" after the report's release.

The right of ethnic Serbs to return to the province, he said, is a "priority task" for the Kosovar government. Independence, he stressed, would not imperil the province's multiculturalism.

Moscow has generally favoured the Serbs, who, like Russians, are Orthodox Christian and Slavic.

The Kremlin's willingness to meet with Ceku, some analysts say, may be a sign Russia - a Security Council member that could thwart Kosovo's national aspirations - is warming to the idea of the province's independence.

Russia supports breakaway regions in the former Soviet states of Georgia and Moldova, and Kosovar independence could be used to set a precedent.

Ceku said Thursday on Vesti-24 that he hoped Moscow would help convince Belgrade to "show more realism with us." He also expressed a desire for Russia to "consider the (Kosovar) government a reliable and legitimate partner on the international arena."

The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, meanwhile, released a statement saying it had urged a diplomatic solution in Kosovo, as well as stressed the right of Serb refugees to return.

"It was especially noted," the statement said, "that the main responsibility for the prevention of extremist activities on the territory of Kosovo lies with the Albanian-Kosovar leadership."