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Friday, November 17, 2006


Pristina, 17 Nov. (AKI) - Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku will visit Moscow on 30 November, in an effort to soften Russian opposition to independence for the province which has been under United Nations control since 1999. The visit was officially confirmed in Moscow and Pristina on Friday, but Russian sources said that Moscow was in an embarrassing position, seeking not to offend Belgrade which opposes independence demanded by majority ethnic Albanians.

Meanwhile, two members of the Kosovo ethnic Albanian negotiating team on the status of Kosovo, Hasim Taci and Veton Suroi, said after talking to the United States officials in Washington that they got the assurances that the decision on Kosovo independence has already been made and that Washington was now “harmonizing its position with the European Union and other international factors”.

"From all American officials I talked to I got the assurances that the status decision has been made,” Taci told Pristina Television 21. “Kosovo will be an independent state with sovereignty on its entire territory, with an international civilian mission and NATO military presence,” Taci said.

Russia is the only member of a six-nation Contact Group for Kosovo that has publicly opposed the independence of the province in which ethnic Albanians outnumber the remaining Serbs by 17 to one. Other members of the group, which should make a final status proposal to the U.N. Security Council, are the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

Ceku has been on a tour of neighboring Balkan countries this week, including Greece, lobbying for independence. He visited Slovenia on Friday and will proceed to Italy. But Russia has remained the main obstacle to independence and has occasionally hinted it might use veto power in the Security Council to block it.

Political analysts in Moscow said there were more advantages than damage in approving Ceku’s three-day visit, but pointed out Russian officials were at pains how to treat him. "If he’s treated as prime minister of a country, then his visit could be interpreted as factual recognition of Kosovo as an independent country,” said Aleksandar Konovalov of the Moscow Institute for Strategic Studies. “Moscow is in a difficult situation and wonders what to do and how to treat Ceku’s visit,” he added.

A senior foreign ministry official, Mikhail Kaminin, said Ceku’s visit was in a “parliamentary line”, but parliament officials denied that such an invitation was extended to Ceku. In any case, analysts agree that Moscow has assessed it could strengthen its international negotiating position by receiving Ceku.

Eight rounds of UN-brokered talks on the Kosovo status yielded no results in the past eight months and chief U.N. negotiator Martti Ahtisaari was expected to make a status proposal to the Security Council in the end of January, immediately after parliamentary elections in Serbia.

Belgrade opposes independence of Kosovo, though it has no more authority there since 1999, when NATO bombing pushed Serbian forces out of the province, following an ethnic Albanian rebellion and mass exodus from the province.
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