PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro Sep 5, 2005 — Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, linked for decades to the ethnic Albanian majority's anti-Serb struggle, said Monday he has lung cancer, but he pledged to stay in office as the U.N.-run province nears crucial talks on its future.
Rugova, 61, said in a televised speech that he would continue to work toward his lifelong goal of Kosovo's independence from Serbian domination that ended only six years ago, when fighting against Serb troops ended and NATO and United Nations assumed control of the province.
"We will continue to work even harder for the recognition of Kosovo's independence," Rugova said.
"Doctors have found that I suffer from a localized lung cancer and they have assigned me an intensive healing therapy," he said. "I am convinced that with the help of God, I will overcome this battle."
Sitting in an armchair at his official residence, a pale Rugova thanked the U.S. government for taking care of him.
Rugova returned to Kosovo on Saturday after spending a week at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he received treatment.
Soren Jessen-Petersen, Kosovo's top U.N. official, wished Rugova a "speedy recovery." He also called on the people in the province "to stay united (and) remain dignified in their solidarity with the president."
Secrecy had surrounded Rugova's health problems for the last two weeks as he underwent tests and treatment. His associates offered no details on his illness.
That led to fears of a possible slowdown in the process leading to talks on the province's future, planned for later this year.
The president, who has cult status among some ethnic Albanians, has been at the forefront of their demand for independence from Serbia since the early 1990s, when he led a nonviolent movement against the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Yugoslavia.
Serbs want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, a union that replaced Yugoslavia.
If Rugova left office, it would leave Kosovo's political scene in disarray at the most sensitive time since the end of the war in 1999.
No other Kosovo politician can hope to fill his shoes because of his longevity and the international respect he gained through the peaceful nature of his opposition to Serb dominance and repression. In contrast, other Kosovo Albanians now in leadership positions were part of the Kosovo Liberation Army that fought Serb troops.
As such, they are lionized by ethnic Albanians but cannot claim to have been above the fray. While Serb forces are considered the main perpetrators of atrocities during the Kosovo struggle, several KLA leaders also have been implicated and are being tried by the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.
Until recently, Rugova led the Democratic League of Kosovo, the province's biggest political party, which has won two general elections since the U.N. began running the disputed province in 1999. The U.N. came in after a NATO air war aimed at stopping the crackdown by Serb forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.
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