PRISTINA (AP)--Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova said Thursday independence for the troubled province is the best solution for the Balkans region.
"It's a compromise and an optimum for all the Albanians in the region," Rugova said of independence for his province, in which a majority of people are ethnic Albanians.
"We did not demand a unification with Albania, which would create other problems," he said. "So, an independent Kosovo would bring calm to this part of Europe."
Rugova made the remarks after an hour-long meeting of Kosovo's negotiating team, which met for the first time Thursday ahead of possible talks on the future of the disputed U.N.-run province.
The team is to map out a strategy after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday he is likely to recommend starting talks on Kosovo's future status in the coming weeks.
Rugova, who is suffering from cancer, presided over Thursday's meeting held in his residence in the province's capital, Pristina. The team also includes the province's prime minister, two opposition leaders and the head of the assembly.
Kosovo has been run by the U.N. and patrolled by North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeepers since the alliance's 1999 air war that halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.
The future status of the ethnically divided province is a highly contentious issue. The majority ethnic Albanians demand full independence, but the Serb minority insists the province remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia.
International officials have said talks on the province's future status depend on whether progress has been made on eight standards, including establishing functioning democratic institutions, protecting minorities, promoting economic development and ensuring the rule of law, freedom of movement and property rights.