Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kosovo president says ethnic Albanians must live alongside Serbs

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu on Tuesday said the ethnic Albanian population in the province must acknowledge and live alongside the Serb minority.

"It is an important objective at this time of development -- Kosovo wants to testify to an internal stability ... and to have a special commitment to the minorities in Kosovo," said Sejdiu at a news conference after meeting with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu on the first day of a two-day visit to Albania.

"That is part of our obligation to prove ourselves" he said, adding ethnic Albanians should "become an example of good neighborhood, a powerful guarantee for further integration processes."

Moisiu hailed Sejdiu for "the personal steps undertaken together with premier (Agim Ceku) to get close to the Serb minority in Kosovo, something which speaks of the determination of Kosovo politics, which considers (the Serbs) equal among equals in a future Kosovo."

Both presidents said Albania and Kosovo had to intensify political, economic, cultural and other relations.

Sejdiu was due to address the parliament during his visit, and meet with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Parliament Speaker Jozefina Topalli and opposition leaders. He will also receive a Tirana University medal.

His visit comes amid U.N.-mediated talks between predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo and Serbia over the future status of the province. Ethnic Albanians want Kosovo to become independent; Serbs want it to remain part of Serbia.

Albania has been the biggest supporter of separatist ethnic Albanians in neighboring Kosovo, leading to frosty relations with Serbia. Tirana has, however, always said it has no territorial claims and does not intend border changes, adding that international institutions and military troops should stay in Kosovo even after its independence.

Earlier this month, during a visit to Pristina, Berisha said that an improvement in the way the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo treat the province's Serb minority would lead to an improvement in relations between Serbs and Albanians after years of enmity and distrust. He also said that peace and stability in the Balkans depend on Kosovo's eventually gaining independence.

"Our stand has been, is and remains: an independent Kosovo would favor stability in the Balkans and all together we would prepare for integration into the European Union," said Moisiu.

Although still formally a part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by a United Nations administration and patrolled by international peacekeepers since NATO bombed Serbia to stop a crackdown by Belgrade on separatist ethnic Albanians.

Both presidents appealed to the ethnic Albanian political leaders in neighboring Macedonia to play by the rules of democracy and let the voters decide on the future government, and called recent cases of violence "improper and unacceptable" and "not normal."

"I believe (Albanian political forces) have enough energy to show that the fight for the vote is part of reflecting the political culture, and the electoral process is a good opportunity to testify to that," said Sejdiu.

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