Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kosovo hails contact group statement calling for solution on status by year end

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Kosovo's government on Thursday praised the six nations in the contact group working to resolve the province's future status for saying they were still committed to achieving a negotiated settlement by the end of the year.

The contact group -- made up of the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia -- met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly gathering in New York on Wednesday. EU officials and other envoys also were present at the meeting. Kosovo ethnic Albanian and Serb representatives did not attend.

"Ministers reaffirmed their commitment that all possible efforts be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006," said a statement issued after the meeting, which also urged Serb and ethnic Albanian negotiators to respect the U.N. process and support chief U.N. envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish president Maarti Ahtisaari.

Ahtisaari is due to brief the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

Kosovo's government hailed "the contact group's ministers' statement, which is encouraging" both sides to reach an agreement on the province's status this year.

Kosovo's parliament, meanwhile, denounced a recent explosion that injured four Serbs and three other bombings which damaged cars, calling them "acts of violence and terror."

"The Kosovo assembly considers that acts of violence and terror spoil Kosovo's image to the world and also seriously and politically damage the process of Kosovo's independence," according to a statement.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when NATO air strikes drove out Serb troops who had carried out a bloody crackdown on its independence-seeking Albanian population, which accounts for 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population.

About 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers still patrol the province.

An estimated 200,000 Serbs fled Kosovo after the 1988-99 conflict, fearing revenge attacks. Today, only about 100,000 remain, most living in small, isolated enclaves scattered around the province.

Serbs are willing to grant Kosovo broad autonomy but consider it the heart of their ancient homeland and want it to remain a part of Serbia.

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