Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova said Monday he was diagnosed with lung cancer but will not step down as the U.N.-administered province nears crucial talks on its future.
Rugova, 61, looking weak and frail, told the nation in a televised address that he would continue to work toward his lifelong goal of Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
"Doctors have found that I suffer from a localized lung cancer and they have assigned me an intensive healing therapy," he said. "I am convinced that with the help of God I will overcome this battle."
Rugova returned to Kosovo on Saturday after spending a week at the U.S. military Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he received medical treatment after a sudden deterioration in his health.
The 61-year-old leader, who has cult status among some ethnic Albanians, has been at the forefront of their demand for independence from Serbia since the early 1990s, when he led a nonviolent movement against the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Yugoslavia.
Serbs want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, a union that replaced Yugoslavia. If Rugova left office due to ill health, it would leave Kosovo's political scene in disarray at the most sensitive time since the end of the war in 1999.
Talks to determine Kosovo's future are to take place if the province reaches internationally set standards on human rights, rights of minorities and rule of law.
Until recently, Rugova led the Democratic League of Kosovo, the province's biggest political party, which has won two general elections since the U.N. began running the disputed province in 1999. The U.N. came in after a NATO air war aimed at stopping the crackdown by Serb forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.