BRUSSELS (AFP) - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called on the leaders of Kosovo to show "unity and responsibility" following the death of the province's president, Ibrahim Rugova.
"The loss of President Rugova comes at a particularly challenging time," Solana said in a statement.
"His wisdom and authority will be greatly missed. At this difficult moment I call on all leaders of Kosovo to show unity and responsibility," he added.
Rugova died Saturday of lung cancer, aged 61, only days ahead of the start of talks Wednesday in Vienna on the final status of the province.
The leadership of the charismatic Kosovo leader was considered crucial for the UN-mediated negotiations.
"With him Kosovo has lost a historic leader who devoted his life to protecting and promoting the rights of the people of Kosovo," Solana said.
"President Rugova was a man of peace, firm in the face of oppression, but deeply committed to the ideals of non-violence," he added.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, also paid tribute to Rugova, saying in a statement that it "appreciated his work for a peaceful solution to the problems of Kosovo, and encourages all leaders to continue to work in this spirit."