Kosovo could become economically viable, says U.N. envoy

The new U.N. envoy overseeing talks on the future status of Kosovo said the province has coal and other resources that could help it become economically viable. Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari told a news conference Tuesday that Kosovo has lignite, a low grade of coal, "which the World Bank says will last 50 to 75 years." When the lignite can be mined and power generated, "it will be extremely useful for the economy of Kosovo and provision of energy in the region but it will need large investments," he said. Ahtisaari said Kosovo also has other resources and when they are properly exploited perhaps half the province's public expenditures could be covered.

"I think there is in the future a possibility for sustainable economic development in Kosovo," he said. The United Nations has administered Kosovo since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign halted a Serb crackdown on the province's majority ethnic Albanian community.

Serbia wants to retain formal control over Kosovo in the future while the province's ethnic Albanians insist on independence.

The talks set to begin in late January are intended to resolve the conflict but Ahtisaari said final status will be determined "in due course", after minimum conditions are created where the majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs and other groups can live together.

He stressed that there were no "artificial deadlines" but said he hopes "to move the process forward promptly."

"We have been given a year's contract to do this business and I hope that that will be enough for the undertaking," he said. During his talks with Serbian authorities in Belgrade, Ahtisaari said, "my message was very clear that they should be realistic."

"According to the guiding principles there's no return to the past. Kosovo must be allowed to develop economically and politically with the possibility to enjoy the full benefits of the international financial institutions," Ahtisaari said.

He said the World Bank has a major role to play as a financing institution as do the European Development Bank, the European Union and the European Commission.

"I think it is important that the World Bank is involved in looking at how one can actually develop both Kosovo and Serbia-Montenegro because there are economic difficulties in both places, and because it's the ordinary citizens that we have to keep in mind, how you can actually improve their living standards," Ahtisaari said, reports the AP. I.L.

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