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Albania's Prime Minister Urges Kosovo Independence

Officials from Serbia and Albania continue to spar over the future of Kosovo Province, as the U.N. negotiator moves toward a possible settlement of the issue.

In remarks to reporters Sunday, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Serbia's approach to the Kosovo status negotiations has been unrealistic. He said that with Kosovo Albanians and Serbs taking opposite positions, the United Nations may have to impose a solution.

Mr. Berisha said the Serbian opposition must not be allowed to stand in the way of a settlement. The six major powers guiding the Kosovo talks have given U.N. negotiator Martti Ahtisaari a green light to propose his own settlement proposal and try to resolve the status of the Serbian province by the end of the year.

Nearly seven months of U.N. negotiations in Vienna have failed to bridge the gap between Serbs who oppose independence and the Kosovo Albanians who insist on it. The U.N. has administered Kosovo since 1999 after NATO drove out the Serbian forces engaged in a brutal crackdown against secessionist rebels.

Meanwhile, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic has told a Pristina newspaper that independence for Kosovo without Serb approval could spark trouble not only in Kosovo but in neighboring Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Draskovic says Kosovo is a spiritual as well as a territorial issue for Serbs.

Although Kosovo has held an important symbolic place for Serbs since the middle ages, the province today has a 90-percent ethnic-Albanian population.

U.N. negotiator Ahtisaari is expected within the next month to propose some form of conditional independence for Kosovo with strong safeguards for the Serb minority.

Government spokesmen in Belgrade have repeated their complaint that Ahtisaari is biased in favor of the Albanians and should resign his position.

Ahtisaari has said that while he has no fixed deadline he does intend to move ahead swiftly. He says that if Kosovo does become independent it would not set a precedent for other nations. Russia, a member of the six nation Contact Group, has said that if Kosovo is permitted to secede from Serbia, that would be a precedent that could apply elsewhere.