PRISTINA, Serbia (AP)--Kosovo's outgoing U.N. chief said Thursday that ethnic Albanians' dream of independence for the province must not become a nightmare for the Serb minority.
Soren Jessen-Petersen's plea came on his last day as the head of the U.N. mission in this province of 2 million, the status of which is being decided in U.N.-sponsored talks between the rival ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities.
"Your dream should not be a nightmare for others," Jessen-Petersen told Kosovo's mainly ethnic Albanian lawmakers during his farewell speech.
Kosovo, which officially remains part of Serbia, has been administered by the U.N. and patrolled by international peacekeepers since mid-1999, when a NATO air war halted a crackdown by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's forces on separatist ethnic Albanians. The province's ethnic Albanian majority wants full independence, but Belgrade insists it retains control.
An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in Kosovo's war. After the end of the war, tens of thousands of Serbs fled the province in the face of reprisal attacks and threats from ethnic Albanians.
Those Serbs who remain live mainly in heavily guarded, isolated enclaves.
International officials have suggested some form of independence for the province - which Serbs consider the birthplace of their national identity - is the most likely outcome of the U.N.-mediated talks taking place in Vienna, Austria.
After serving for two years as the chief administrator in the U.N.-run province, Jessen-Petersen conceded that one of his greatest failures was the inability to bring its bitterly divided communities closer.
While acknowledging that the life of Serbs and other minorities remains hard, he blamed authorities in Serbia for discouraging the minority Serbs from participating in Kosovo's political life, which they have been boycotting since the worst anti-Serb violence rocked Kosovo in 2004.
Jessen-Petersen said that "major challenges" in the fields of rule of law, economy and in trying to ensure the multiethnic character of Kosovo will remain even after the status decision is reached, likely at the end of 2006.
Jessen-Petersen, a Danish refugee expert and former European Union representative to Macedonia, was appointed to the post in June 2004 and has been the longest-serving of five U.N. chiefs since the end of the war.
A lawyer, he has been assistant high commissioner for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, as then chairman of a European Union initiative to manage population movements in the western Balkans. [ 29-06-06 1502GMT ]