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Macedonian Leader Optimistic Serbia, Kosovo Will Agree on Kosovo Independence

Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, in Washington for talks with President Bush and U.S. officials, says he believes Kosovo and Serbia will reach agreement on conditional independence for the southern Serbian province. Mr. Buckovski spoke during a news conference at VOA's Washington studio.

With the negotiations on Kosovo's future status about to begin, Mr. Buckovski expressed confidence that the leaders of Serbia and its predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo will reach agreement during the course of 2006.

"I'm expecting hard negotiations," he noted. "But from the other side I'm optimistic about the prospects of a compromise between Belgrade and Pristina. I'm expecting that in 2006 Belgrade and Pristina will find a solution on the final status of Kosovo."

Mr. Buckovski has reason to be interested in developments in Kosovo. Macedonia lies on the southern border of the province and his coalition includes an ethnic- Albanian party with close links to ethnic-Albanian leaders in Pristina, capital of Kosovo.

The Macedonian prime minister believes the basis of a compromise lies in Pristina's understanding that the rights of the minority Serbs in the province, as well as their religious shrines, must be protected.

Serbian leaders, he adds, must also understand that failure to negotiate seriously over Kosovo will jeopardize Serbia's goal to eventually join the European Union.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has proposed that Kosovo should have a status somewhere between autonomy and independence. Mr. Buckovski expressed support for that position.

"By my opinion, Kostunica's statement about Kosovo: More than autonomy, less than independence, is a step forward concerning a possible compromise between Belgrade and Pristina," he noted. "And definitely, [in] my opinion, some kind of conditional independence, probably, will be a first step in a possible compromise between Belgrade and Pristina together with the international community."

The Kosovo negotiations are due to start in early November. They will be led by a European diplomat assisted by U.S. and Russian deputies. In 1999, a NATO bombing campaign in support of ethnic Albanians forced a Serbian military withdrawal from the province. Since then, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations with a NATO-led force providing security.