Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kosovo leader has lung cancer - IHT

By Nicholas Wood International Herald Tribune

TIMISOARA, Romania President Ibrahim Rugova of Kosovo announced Monday that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, raising questions over his participation in negotiations this autumn on the region's future.

Looking frail, the leader of Kosovo, the UN-administered province of Serbia, made the announcement on regional television stations, ending a week of speculation about his health that was prompted by his flight to a U.S. military base in Germany for tests on Aug. 27.

But Rugova, 61, who has made independence from Serbia his lifelong goal, gave no indication that he would be stepping down. "The doctors found that my health is improving," he said, "and they are optimistic on my recovery in the near future."

If Rugova were incapacitated, his Democratic League of Kosovo would be left divided and without an obvious replacement as it begins negotiations that many ethnic Albanians hope will lead to Kosovo becoming an independent state.

The United Nations is considering whether relations between the Albanians and the minority Serb community have improved sufficiently for talks to take place. That decision is expected this month.

The province has been administered by the United Nations since Yugoslav security forces, after committing widespread atrocities against ethnic Albanians, were forced to withdraw from the region six years ago. Kosovo is still officially a part of Serbia, but the Serbian government in Belgrade no longer exercises any authority over the region.

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