NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has asked Kosovo Albanians for "patience" in their quest for independence.

Speaking after talks Friday with the province's Prime Minister Agim Ceku in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, de Hoop Scheffer said Western powers need more time to guide the independence process through the United Nations.

The province's ethnic Albanian majority is seeking independence, a move Serbia strongly opposes.

The NATO chief also called on Russia and Belgrade to be more flexible in the search for a permanent status for the region.  Russia has threatened a veto of U.N. plans for internationally-supervised independence for Kosovo.

De Hoop Scheffer traveled to Kosovo after addressing a security forum in Ohrid, Macedonia, organized by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.  In his comments to the meeting, de Hoop Scheffer had warned against lengthy delays in resolving the province's future. 

Representatives of 26 NATO members and the 23 Euro-Atlantic partners at the meeting also are discussing concerns about Afghanistan and energy security.  De Hoop Scheffer urged them to provide additional resources toward the development of Afghanistan.

The United States and European countries have backed U.N. proposals to grant Kosovo internationally-supervised independence.  Russia strongly backs Serbia's opposition to the plan.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when NATO air strikes halted Belgrade's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the area.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.