24 March 2007

Berlin: Kosovo is EU's most pressing issue

United Press International, 1/8/2007 8:29:00 AM -0500


BERLIN, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says stability in the Balkans depends on the future status of Kosovo.


Steinmeier told the Bild am Sonntag weekly that Germany, which on Jan. 1 took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union, would try to help tackle the status issue of Kosovo, which he said is the biggest immediate problem the EU faces.


"We will have to deal with Kosovo right at the start of the year," Steinmeier said. "The upcoming decision about its future status is closely linked to stability in the Balkans. The EU, which will take over responsibility from the U.N., will do everything in its power to prevent any new conflicts with Serbia."


Steinmeier said the EU aspired for a "functioning community" in Kosovo in which all citizens -- Albanians as well as Serbs -- could live in peace and security, and added the EU mission would include police, justice and administrative officials from across the 27-member club.


"It will cost money and we will need people," he said. "But you only need to recall the horrors of the Balkan wars in the 1990s to know that stability in the Balkans is of great importance and deserves our complete engagement."


Serbia, supported by Russia, wants to keep Kosovo as an autonomous province, while leaders of ethnic Albanians insist on independence from Belgrade. The region has been run by the United Nations since 1999, but the future status for Kosovo is up for review after a U.N. report is due to be published after the Serbian general elections on Jan. 21.