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EU's Solana urges Kosovo leaders to fill vacuum

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Kosovo politicians Thursday to quickly fill the leadership vacuum left by the death of President Ibrahim Rugova last weekend.

Solana, who paid tribute to the late leader as a man who "gave to his country all his life," said replacing him "is not an easy task."

Rugova came to embody ethnic Albanians' aspirations for full independence for Kosovo. He died of lung cancer on Saturday.

With no one in line to take his place, Kosovo's political scene has been thrown into disarray as the province prepares for talks on its final status. The talks, which had been due to begin on Wednesday, have been postponed until next month.

"What came to my mind yesterday and also today is to see the vacuum that he leaves be filled by people with a sense of responsibility, with a sense of unity, with a sense of generosity for the people of Kosovo," Solana told the AP in an interview. "Sooner the decisions are taken, better for everybody."

The U.S. envoy to the Kosovo talks, Frank Wisner, said that his government was "deeply committed to the negotiations that lie ahead and their rapid conclusion."

Nexhat Daci, the head of the assembly who is likely to take up the duties of the president until a new one is elected by parliament, pledged that Kosovo leaders would move swiftly.

"We will not delay any process," Daci said. "The finalization of the independence is in Kosovo's and the region's interest."

Rugova had been leading the province's negotiating team as it tried to negotiate with Serbia's officials on whether Kosovo becomes an independent state or remains part of Serbia.

"This is one of the ironies of history that Kosovo looses a man in the moment in which he was most needed," Solana said, praising Rugova's leadership style of trying to obtain results without violence.

Rugova won international admiration for his peaceful opposition to Serb dominance of the province in the 1990s, an approach that won him the nickname "Kosovo's Gandhi."

Kosovo, which officially remains a province of Serbia-Montenegro, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO-led bombing ended a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

January 26, 2006 11:20 AM

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