Sunday, May 15, 2005

Serbia's PM invites his Kosovo counterpart for direct talks

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on Sunday invited Kosovo's ethnic Albanian government leader for direct talks later this month, officials in Belgrade said.

Amid many unresolved issues between Serbia and its breakaway Kosovo province, which is dominated by independence-seeking ethnic Albanians, the Serbian authorities are "determined that, through patient dialogue and through compromises, solutions be found," said Kostunica's spokesman, Srdjan Djuric as he announced the invitation to Bajram Kosumi, the head of Kosovo's government.

There was no immediate reaction from Kosumi's office. If he accepts the offer to meet May 24 in the southern Kosovo city of Prizren, it would be the first direct, bilateral meeting between government leaders of Serbia and Kosovo since the 1998-1999 war.

In 1999, NATO bombing of Serbs halted their crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists and forced then-Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to hand over control of the province to the United Nations and the military alliance.

Talks on a final status for Kosovo are expected later this year, on an international level, while some mid-level contacts between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders have taken place to try to resolve the fates of people missing from the war and to talk about possible return of refugees.

Last month, Serbia's President Boris Tadic proposed a direct meeting with to his Kosovo counterpart, Ibrahim Rugova, but the ethnic Albanian leader refused the offer.

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