Kosovo authorities and international officials on Monday visited neighboring Montenegro to discuss plans to bring some 18,000 refugees, mostly non-Albanians, back to their homes in the troubled province.
The Kosovo delegation, which included members of the United Nations mission that runs the province and representatives of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, met with government leaders of Montenegro where the refugees have lived since 1999.
"Security conditions must be ensured for a sustainable return of the refugees," as well as "their right to reclaim property, to receive education and medical care," said Montenegro's Welfare Minister Slavoljub Stijepovic.
There was no immediate comment from the visiting delegation, but a terse government statement after the talks said they had "agreed to enable a return of the displaced."
The refugees are mostly Montenegrin, Roma and Serb civilians who left Kosovo after the 1999 NATO bombing that ended a Serbian crackdown on the ethnic Albanian separatists and forced Serbia to relinquish control over its southern province.
The change of authority from Serbian to U.N. and NATO authority, triggered the exodus of more than 250,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians from Kosovo. Most of the displaced still live in Serbia or in tiny Montenegro, the two republics formerly known as Yugoslavia.
No timetable was given for refugees to return.
Enabling the displaced to reclaim their original homes would be crucial for an overall assessment about rule of law and democracy in Kosovo, key standards that need to be met before expected talks later this year about a final status for the disputed province.