Monday, October 30, 2006

Serbia referendum will have no affect on Kosovo status talks, prime minister says

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - Kosovo's prime minister on Monday dismissed claims that Serbia's new referendum could influence the outcome of U.N.-led talks on the breakaway province's future status.

The weekend vote on a new Serbian constitution that asserts Belgrade's claim on Kosovo would not have "any impact at all" on the drive by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians for independence, Prime Minister Agim Ceku said.

"We consider it very irrelevant," Ceku said, adding that it "does not deserve any comment from us."

Partial results from the Saturday-Sunday referendum indicate Serb voters have approved the new constitution, replacing a 1990 charter drafted under Serbia's former dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Final results were expected later Monday.

Western powers have criticized the new constitution for its assertion over the disputed Kosovo province, which has been run by the United Nations since a 1999 NATO air campaign halted a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

The U.N. envoy overseeing talks on Kosovo's final status, Martti Ahtisaari, was expected to present a proposal for the province's future in mid-November. Most diplomats have said the province will likely get some sort of independence, although there are concerns about the security of the 100,000 or so Serbs still living in Kosovo.

Serbs consider Kosovo to be the birthplace of the nation and home of the medieval Serbian kingdom. But sour relations between the two communities peaked in the 1998-99 war that left some 10,000 dead before NATO's 78-day bombing campaign stopped the Serb crackdown.