Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New U.N. administrator appeals to ethnic Albanians to help Kosovo's Serbs

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - The newly appointed U.N. administrator of Kosovo appealed Tuesday to ethnic Albanians to reach out to the province's Serb minority.

Joachim Ruecker, a German diplomat, was named to the post by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday. He pledged to make it his priority to give Kosovo's 2 million people "a clear perspective," and expected to be the last U.N. official running Kosovo.

"Minority communities in Kosovo, especially the Kosovo Serb community, need special reassurances," Ruecker said. "The majority population has an obligation and responsibility to reach out to the minorities more than ever before."

Ruecker has been in Kosovo since 2005, as the top U.N. official in charge of the province's economic development and the privatization of hundreds of socially owned enterprises -- most of which are dilapidated after years of mismanagement and neglect -- in hopes of boosting investment in the impoverished province.

His appointment comes at the most sensitive time for Kosovo.

The province is as divided as ever. Ethnic Albanians and Serbs remain entrenched in opposing positions on the province's future status. It also remains one of the poorest regions in Europe, with an unemployment rate estimated at more than 50 percent.

U.N.-brokered talks on the future status of the province are under way, with former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari seeking to find a solution by the end of the year between ethnic Albanians, who are seeking full independence, and Serbia, which is offering autonomy for the province.

There are fears that tensions will rise between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority, especially in the northern part of the province where some local Serb leaders have warned of partition if Kosovo gains independence.

Ruecker said he will support efforts to find a solution for Kosovo's status in 2006 and focus on developing stable institutions, securing minority participation and providing a secure environment for economic development.

As the head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, Ruecker will also oversee the reduction in size of the U.N. mission, which has administered Kosovo since mid-1999 when a NATO air war halted Serb forces' crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

Ruecker said his ambition was to be the last U.N. official running Kosovo and have "a relatively short period of tenure."

"I think it will last until the U.N. mission in Kosovo switches off the lights," he said of his contract.

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