UN chief Kofi Annan called on political leaders of Kosovo to maintain unity after the death of President Ibrahim Rugova at a "crucial moment" for the province.
"Mr. Rugova passed away at a crucial moment of final preparations for the talks on Kosovo's future status. The secretary general trusts in the maturity of Kosovo's institutions and believes that the loss of Kosovo's president will not disrupt this process," said a statement issued by Annan's spokesman here.
"The secretary general calls upon the Kosovo political leaders to maintain their unity and continue extending their full cooperation to the secretary general's special envoy, Mr Martti Ahtisaari, and his special representative, Mr Soren Jessen-Petersen," it said.
The statement said Annan "shares the grief of the people of Kosovo," and it praised Rugova, who died Saturday at the age of 61 from lung cancer, as a true leader who advocated a peaceful solution for Kosovo.
Rugova's disappearance from the political scene comes at a crucial time for disputed Kosovo's Albanian majority, as it prepares for crucial talks on the future status of the UN-run Serbian territory.
The talks, planned for next week, were postponed following Rugova's death on Saturday.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and NATO since June 1999, when the alliance's airstrikes led Serbian forces under Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw from the province, where they had been cracking down on separatist guerrillas.
While the Albanians, representing 90 percent of the population, are demanding independence, Belgrade is only offering broad autonomy for Kosovo, which has deep cultural and historical significance for the Serbs.