Albania's prime minister suggested Tuesday that Serbia-Montenegro's contested province of Kosovo should gain independence. Sali Berisha said after meeting with Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic that Kosovo's future status should be determined according to its people's will.
Kosovo became an international protectorate in 1999, after NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to stop a crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatist rebels. The province is formally part of Serbia-Montenegro but has been run by the United Nations and NATO since 1999 and remains a potential flashpoint in the Balkans because of its unresolved status.
The United Nations are hoping to start negotiations on the province's future by the end of the year. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insist on independence, while Belgrade hopes to retain at least formal control of the region, the AP reports.
"The status issue should be solved in accordance with the will of the people and they have opted for independence many times," Berisha said in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica.
Berisha added that the rights of Kosovo's Serbs and other minorities must be respected and that all those who have fled the province after the war should return.
Djukanovic said Kosovo remains the "last security problem" in the region which went through a series of bloody wars as Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s.
Djukanovic's government also hopes to split the tiny republic from a joint state with much larger Serbia. Djukanovic said Montenegro will become a factor of stability in the Balkans once it gains independence.
A referendum on whether Montenegro should split from or stay linked to Serbia is tentatively scheduled for early next year. The issue is highly divisive among Montenegrins.