Monday, January 24, 2005

Kosovo To Be Discussed During Bush Visit -EU Commissioner

A senior European Union official said Monday that the E.U. intends to discuss Kosovo's future with U.S. President George W. Bush during his February stop in Europe.

E.U. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the organization expects also to discuss the future of the Western Balkans, one of the poorest region in Europe, which is still recovering from decade-long ethnic conflicts of the 1990s.

"My intention ... is to have the Western Balkans, and especially the question of Kosovo also on the agenda of the visit of President George W. Bush to Brussels later in February," said Rehn.

Kosovo, which formally remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, has been administered by the U.N. since mid-1999, when a NATO air war ended a Serb crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

Its status remains unresolved, and the U.N. has said final status talks won't go ahead until the province's government enacts reforms to ensure the protection of minorities, respect for human rights and return of those displaced by fighting.

The province's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, while its Serb minority wants it to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned in a new report released Monday that the disputed province could plunge back into its violent past unless the ethnic Albanian majority demand for independence from Serbia isn't addressed this year.

"Kosovo has to continue to work in order to become a democratic, tolerant and multiethnic society where all the citizens have the right to live, move, work and prosper regardless of their ethnic origin or religion," Rehn said after meeting Kosovo's leaders.

He called upon the leadership to "show real progress and substantive improvement in interethnic relations.

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