French foreign minister arrives in Serbia-Montenegro

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy arrives in Serbia-Montenegro on Friday for a two-day tour that will include a visit to the U.N.-administered province of Kosovo. Douste-Blazy will meet Serbia-Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, as well as Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Douste-Blazy will travel to Pristina on Saturday for talks with local ethnic Albanian leaders and U.N. officials running the province. Discussions in Belgrade and Pristina are expected to focus on the upcoming negotiations on the future of the contested Kosovo region.

The province, which technically remains part of Serbia, has been a de facto international protectorate since 1999, when a campaign of aerial bombing by NATO halted ex-president Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Its final status remains a thorny issue because Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insists on independence, while Serbia wants to retain at least formal control over the region. Finding a solution for the problem is considered key for stability of the Balkans. Belgrade officials are likely to seek French support Friday for their position that Kosovo should remain a self-governing entity within the boundaries of Serbia-Montenegro, itself a loose union of the two states.

Ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo have in the past rejected such proposals despite warnings from Belgrade that changes of borders in the region could lead to renewed instability, reports the AP. I.L.

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