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Moscow reiterates concern over minority rights in Kosovo

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Kosovo is still experiencing problems with ethnic minority rights and the repatriation of refugees, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
MOSCOW, May 3 (RIA Novosti) - Kosovo is still experiencing problems with ethnic minority rights and the repatriation of refugees, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

"The Russian side pointed to ongoing problems in the province, primarily in establishing interethnic dialogue, meeting ethnic minority standards, security guarantees, and the repatriation of refugees and displaced persons," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Titov after a meeting of the Kosovo Contract Group in London.

Discussions on the status of Kosovo - whether it should be granted sovereignty or remain a part of Serbia - have continued since NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia ended a war between Serb forces and Muslim Albanian separatists in 1999, making the mostly Albanian-populated province in southern Serbia a UN protectorate.

The plan proposed by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, which would eventually grant Kosovo the independence sought by its Albanian majority, has been rejected by Serbia and veto-wielding Russia, while the U.S. and the EU have expressed support for sovereignty.

Kosovo, which has a population of two million, has been a UN protectorate since NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia ended a war between Serb forces and Muslim Albanian separatists in 1999.

Serbia is strongly opposed to independence for the province, which is dominated by ethnic Albanians, but the United States and the European Union have expressed support for its sovereignty.

However, only four out of 15 member-states at the UN Security Council voted for UN envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari's plan, advocating an internationally supervised sovereignty for the province, during the first round of consultations April 3.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Cheku denied Serbia's accusations and said his government will respect the interests of minorities in the region.

"We will grant all the necessary guarantees for the rights of ethnic minorities in Kosovo," he said.

Kosovo authorities also pledged to assign at least 20 out of 120 seats in the local parliament for representatives of ethnic minorities.

Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said in late April that if the UN Security Council does not adopt a new resolution on Kosovo granting the province independence, the U.S. would unilaterally support a declaration by Kosovo's Albanian authorities on separation from Serbia.

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