Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deputy premier says Kosovo ready to become independent and govern itself

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Kosovo's Deputy Prime Minister Lutfi Haziri said Tuesday his province expects to become independent next year and govern itself with a small international mission to monitor it.

"I believe that within the next nine months Kosovo will have its status, Kosovo will pass a temporary constitution, Kosovo will hold democratic elections and implement their result," Haziri said, speaking on Albanian public television.

"We shall take the responsibility to manage public institutions, protect the rights of minorities and there will be a small international presence that will monitor -- not share -- Kosovo's sovereignty, security and judiciary," he said.

Kosovo, formally a Serbian province, has been run by the United Nations and NATO since a 1999 war. The United States and the Contact Group for Kosovo, which includes Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, are seeking to wrap up talks on the province's future by the end of the year.

But the negotiations, which started early this year, have produced no result, with both sides entrenched in their positions -- the ethnic Albanians demanding independence from Serbia and Belgrade offering broad autonomy but no independence.

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who in 1999 negotiated with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to end the fighting in Kosovo, said Monday he sees no solution in the talks on the status of Kosovo because the two sides are too divided.

Ahtisaari is due to report to the United Nations within the next few months on the status of the Kosovo talks. He stressed that an agreement must be reached in Kosovo to bring calm to the troubled region.

Haziri said that Serbia's calling of a referendum on a constitution that sets out that Kosovo is part of its territory, followed by elections, were a pretext to postpone the final decision on the province's status, and an effort to "discredit" Ahtisaari's mission and cause division among Contact Group members.

The deputy premier, just back from Washington where he had met with State Department officials and U.S. envoy for the talks Frank Wisner, said he had received clear confirmation there would be no delay in talks.

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