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Romano Prodi urges Albanians not to declare independence unilaterally

Italy's premier Romano Prodi believes that ethnic Albanians in Kosovo will delay their plans for a unilateral declaration of independence, claiming EU nations have made progress on reaching a common stance on the province.

"But that progress needs more time to be realized and would be irreplaceably destroyed if there were hasty unilateral decisions on Dec. 10," Romano Prodi said Monday while on a visit to Albania. He did not immediately provide further details on what progress was made.

Internationally mediated talks on Kosovo's future status ended in deadlock last month. Mediators have until Dec. 10 to report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the negotiations between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders and Serbian officials.

Kosovo's leaders have said they would declare independence if the talks ended without a deal, but have pledged to coordinate their decision with the European Union and the United States.

Serbia has refused to give up sovereignty of the province.

Kosovo has been under U.N. and NATO administration since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Prodi was speaking after talks with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who sought to allay fears of a quick move on independence.

"Dec. 10 has not been set as a date for any unilateral action from the Kosovo leadership," Berisha said.

"During this period, it is of extraordinary importance for the Kosovo leadership to have close collaboration with international institutions."

Albania is a strong backer of independence for Kosovo - whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian - arguing that further delay in its status could have negative effects on regional peace and stability.

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