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Albanian PM Says Independent Kosovo Key to Balkans Stability

As a new and presumably final round of negotiations aimed at determining the status of Serbia's Kosovo province gets under way, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha says independence is the only solution that will assure regional stability. VOA's Barry Wood reports from Albania's capital Tirana.

Prime Minister Berisha does not oppose the resumed status negotiations that are beginning this week, but he says there are risks to delaying implementation of the international plan for Kosovo's conditional independence. Mr. Berisha distrusts Russia, which has aligned itself with Serbia in opposing Kosovo's independence.

"Russia is blocking the U.N. Security Council [resolution of Kosovo] for its own imperial reasons, and no other reason [than that]," he said.

In an interview with VOA, Mr. Berisha said he doubts Russia will change its position, even after the anticipated four additional months of discussions. The joint U.S., Russian and European Union negotiating team meets Thursday in London and then travels to the Serbian capital Belgrade and to Pristina, the Kosovo's capital.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council failed to pass a resolution for Kosovo's conditional independence because of a threatened Russian veto. Kosovo, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO bombing drove Serb forces out of the province.

Mr. Berisha is also skeptical about Belgrade's intentions. Serbia says it will grant widespread autonomy to Kosovo, but will not accept independence for the land it considers its religious and spiritual heartland.

Mr. Berisha says by opposing the international plan for a multi-ethnic independent Kosovo, Belgrade is maintaining the discredited Milosevic-era doctrine of a greater Serbia, regarded as a principal cause of the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

"Look at Belgrade. What is it today? It is the Milosevic doctrine without force," Mr. Berisha said. "[Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica and [President Boris] Tadic are not threatening to use the army, not concentrating on the army. But they are keeping the same principles in regard to a greater Serbia."

Mr. Berisha warns against the partition of Kosovo, saying a Serb state in the northern part of the territory is no solution for ethnic Serbs. It is dangerous, he says, to change accepted borders, and would trigger demands for ethnic autonomy elsewhere, even inside Serbia proper.

"I know [for example] there are more Albanians in southern Serbia than Serbs in northern Kosovo," Mr. Berisha said. "There are more Bosnians in Sanjak [region of Serbia] than Serbs in northern Kosovo. I think sticking to international borders is the only way."

Mr. Berisha says it is essential for Albanian politicians in Kosovo to reach out to minority Serbs and convince them that they are safe and have a secure future in an independent state.