Wednesday, April 06, 2005

German foreign minister in Kosovo visit

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will meet Kosovo's leaders and his country's troops Wednesday as part of a two-day Balkans tour.

Fischer, will also meet senior international officials and German troops in this disputed, U.N.-run province which is entering a delicate stage of possible discussion on its future status. Germany has some 2,500 troops in the south of the province, ensuring security as part of a 18,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force.

"We are at the beginning of discussion of Kosovo's future status," Fischer said after attending a meeting of Balkan foreign ministers in neighboring Albania Tuesday. "We believe that the international community and the parties on the ground will stick to the spirit of compromise and reconciliation. We are optimistic."

Fischer also called on the province's predominantly ethnic Albanian institutions to respect and protect the rights of minorities.

Six years after the war, tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs persist in Kosovo, with attacks often targeting the dwindling Serb minority, threatening to deepen the ethnic divide.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations following the 1998-99 war that left about 10,000 people dead. NATO bombed Serb forces to end Belgrade's crackdown on majority ethnic Albanians in the province.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians seek full independence, while Belgrade insists Kosovo should remain part of Serbia-Montenegro -- a union that replaced Yugoslavia -- but enjoy broad autonomy.

The talks on the future status of Kosovo are expected to start in September if the province meets internationally set standards on human rights, rights of minorities and democratization.

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