PRISTINA (AP)--Leaders in Kosovo welcomed the appointment of the former Finnish president Tuesday to lead negotiations on resolving the disputed province's future status.
Serbia's leaders, on the other hand, expressed caution over his nomination. Martti Ahtisaari's appointment, which had been widely expected, cleared the way for the negotiations to begin almost immediately on whether the province becomes independent as demanded by ethnic Albanians or whether Serbia retains some formal control over it.
Ethnic Albanian leaders said they expected Ahtisaari to respect the majority's will for independence, while officials in Serbia urged him to comply with his mandate.
"We believe that Ahtisaari...will set up the framework for the resolution of Kosovo's status on the basis of a set of principles - the main one being the respect for the will of the majority of the people of Kosovo," said Muhamet Hamiti, the spokesman for Kosovo's president Ibrahim Rugova.
Serbia-Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, whose country viewed Ahtisaari's appointment with suspicion, said the envoy's mandate stems from the U.N. Security Council, so "he will abide by that mandate because he must".
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica only reiterated Serbia's stand on Kosovo.
"Serbia is determined to keep Kosovo and it is clear there can be no snatching of our territory and no divisions of Serbia," Kostunica said while visiting the Orthodox Christian sanctuary of Mount Athos in northern Greece.
Nenad Djurdjevic, independent analyst from the Forum for Ethnic Relations group, said Ahtisaari's appointment "should not necessarily be viewed so negatively" by Belgrade.
"At the beginning, Ahtisaari's job would be to determine the stands of Belgrade, Pristina and the Kosovo Serbs, as well as the ability of each side to compromise," he said.
Ahtisaari, among the world's most famed mediators, has dealt with Kosovo in the past.
In 1999, Ahtisaari negotiated a deal with then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that put an end to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing of Serb forces - a campaign aimed at stopping the crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.
That deal put Kosovo under U.N. administration but left its status unresolved.
The U.N. has administered Kosovo since NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia. The NATO bombardment forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end a crackdown on rebel ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and relinquish control over the region.