Monday, July 17, 2006

Ethnic Albanian leaders to take part in top Kosovo status meeting

PRISTINA, Serbia, July 17, 2006 (AFP) -

Ethnic Albanian leaders in a Kosovo negotiating team on Monday accepted to join a top Albanian-Serb meeting about the province's future status, official said.

"The Kosovo negotiating team will go to Vienna on July 24, not to negotiate but to prove once more the view that Kosovo's independence and full sovereignty of the country ... are a vital solution, which should be confirmed by the international process for definition of the status," Skender Hyseni, the team's spokesperson, said.

"The Kosovo negotiating team will defend the position that Kosovo's independence is non negotiable."

The UN-sponsored talks on Kosovo's future status, which began in February, are taking place in Vienna but have produced no concrete results so far.

The UN special envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, said last week he hoped to have the first high-level Serb-Albanian meeting on the territory's future status in Vienna before the end of the month.

Leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority are pushing for independence, a demand the Serbian government firmly opposes, offering instead wide autonomy to its southern province.

Kosovo, legally still a province of Serbia, has been run by the United Nations and NATO since 1999, when the alliance's air strikes ended a crackdown by forces loyal to then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic against Albanian separatists.

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