TIRANA, Albania (AP)--U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros on Saturday said there was no alternative other than independence for Serbia's province of Kosovo, but it should also ensure the future and the status of its minorities.
Soros was on a three-day visit to Albania during which he was also awarded Tirana city hall's "Honored Citizen" medal for his contribution to improving Albania's education and infrastructure.
"It is really high time to settle the status of Kosovo. My personal opinion is there's no alternative but to give Kosovo independence. But there have to be conditions to ensure the future and the status of the minorities in Kosovo," Soros said at a news conference.
Kosovo, considered by the Serb minority to be the cradle of their statehood and religion, has been run by the U.N. since 1999, when NATO bombing halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.
The province is entering a delicate phase with talks on its future political status, U.N.-sponsored negotiations on whether the province becomes independent or remains a self-governing part of Serbia.
The U.N. envoy to mediate talks on Kosovo's future, Finland's former President Martti Ahtisaari, was expected to visit Kosovo and Belgrade next week and move to Austria next month to start the talks.
"I think it would be difficult to find a better man for the purpose," Soros said of Ahtisaari.
Soros also was optimistic about Albania's future and its institutional development, though fighting organized crime and corruption were among its top priorities.
"There's always the danger of political interference in the judiciary and that needs to be resisted and needs to be very carefully watched," he said.
Since its opening in 1992, the Soros Open Society Foundation has spent some $48 million on projects in Albania aimed at improving governance, reforming institutions, enhancing opportunities for youth and fostering a better environment for business development.
Separately, Soros has earmarked $57 million for projects specifically for improving education in Albania. [ 19-11-05 1600GMT ]