By FISNIK ABRASHI
18 May 2005
(c) 2005. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova is willing to meet Serbia's president Boris Tadic on the sidelines of an international conference next month in Switzerland, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Rugova, who until now has refused Tadic's offer for direct talks, said that the conference of Balkan presidents, planned to be held in Geneva in June, would be a suitable place for the two to meet.
The meeting should take place in the presence of senior representatives of the international community, said Muhamet Hamiti, Rugova's spokesman.
If the meeting goes ahead, it would mark the first time the presidents from Kosovo and Serbia have met since the end of the 1998-1999 war between Serb forces and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian rebels which left the province as a U.N. protectorate patrolled by NATO peacekeepers.
Western officials have increased pressure for direct talks between Kosovo's and Serbia's leaders as this disputed province approaches discussions on its future status.
U.N. officials also said Wednesday that they are attempting to facilitate these meetings.
Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has also invited the province's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi on Tuesday for direct talks to be held in Kosovo's southern city of Prizren later this month. While Kosumi expressed willingness to meet with his Serb counterpart, he has not yet agreed on the date and the venue for that meeting.
Serbs consider Kosovo an integral part of their state, but the province's ethnic Albanian majority wants complete independence.
Talks to decide the province's future will be held later this year, if Kosovo reaches internationally set standards for protecting minority rights, democratization and the reform of local governance, which would give Serbs and other minorities more say in areas where they live.
Recently, envoys from the United States, the European Union, Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Germany laid out three key guidelines on resolving the province's disputed status.
The envoys said the province could not return to its pre-1999 status, when it was under direct Serb rule. They ruled out the province being partitioned along ethnic Albanian and Serbian lines, and also ruled out the creation of any new union between predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo and other countries in the region, such as Albania.
The guidelines leave several options open, including independence or a loose union with Serbia.