BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Serbia-Montenegro on Thursday welcomed the latest U.S. initiative to resolve the future status of Kosovo, but ruled out independence for the volatile province.
Calling 2005 the "year of decision for Kosovo," U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns called Wednesday for increased efforts to resolve the political status of the ethnic Albanian-dominated region.
Burns said Kosovo's final status must be based on multi-ethnicity with full respect for human rights, including the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return home in safety. He ruled out any solution based on unilateral decisions by either side or through the use of force.
The province's ethnic Albanian majority, which fought a war against Yugoslav government troops in 1998-99, insists on full independence, but Serbs sees the province as an integral part of Serbia.
"We have no single reason to be unhappy" with the U.S. plan, Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told the independent B-92 radio. But the American stand on Serbia's borders "remains unclear," he added.
Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, Yugoslavia's successor state, but has been an international protectorate since the 1999 NATO bombing halted Serbia's crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians and forced Belgrade to relinquish control over Kosovo to the United Nations and NATO.
Tens of thousands of Serbs and Roma fled the province after the war due to reprisals by ethnic Albanians. In March 2004, two days of ethnic violence in which mobs of ethnic Albanians targeted the Serb minority and their property left 19 people dead and more than 900 injured.
Burns said Belgrade's suggestion of "more than autonomy but less than independence" for Kosovo is unclear.
"Our stand is that Serbia's borders cannot be changed. We are ready to sign that those borders be symbolic, transparent and completely open," Draskovic said. "We won't say that we have sovereignty over Kosovo, but the Albanians should not say they have independence."
Serbian President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Tomislav Nikolic, a leader of the ultranationalist Radical Party, met late Wednesday in Belgrade, issuing a statement that "international borders in the region must remain unchanged to preserve and strengthen regional stability."