Kosovo to become sovereign state in May - president

( RIA Novosti ) - A direct path to Kosovo's independence will be opened next month, the president of the breakaway Serbian province said after talks with UN ambassadors Friday.

A UN fact-finding mission is in Serbia ahead of further discussions on the province's future. 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.

"Kosovo is getting ready to gain independence by the end of May," Fatmir Sejdiu said, praising the results of talks with UN officials.

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.

Moscow proposed sending a UN mission to Kosovo and Belgrade before continuing talks on Kosovo. The Security Council backed the initiative April 13.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica Thursday handed documents over to the ambassadors - who arrived in Serbia early Thursday and will stay until April 28 - which he said revealed the travel restrictions imposed on Serbs and other minorities, instances when cultural monuments and Orthodox churches have been destroyed, and obstacles to the return of Serbs to their homes in Kosovo.

"It is important that the Security Council finally pays attention to Serbia's proposals, which Marti Ahtisaari has deliberately avoided," the premier's adviser Slobodan Samardic said.

But on Friday, 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.

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