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Kosovo Ponders Future Without Rugova

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is Weekend Edition, from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Coming up rethinking mass transit. But first, Kosovo Albanians have responded to the death of Ibrahim Rugova with sadness and concern. Kosovo has been an international protectorate administered by the United Nations since 1999 and the NATO bombing campaign ousted former Serbian President Slobadan Milosevic forces. Now ethnic Albanians fear that the void left by Mr. Rugova's death could jeopardize Kosovo's chance to become fully independent and at peace within the region. Eleanor Beardsley sends us this report from Pristina near Kosovo.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians who flooded the street to say goodbye to their president had hoped he would lead them in negotiations toward independence from Serbia in talks that were to open this past week. Those talks have now been postponed. Alex Anderson(ph) is the Kosovo Project Director of the International Crisis Group. He says the void left by Rugova's departure could delay the talks for a long time.

ALEX ANDERSON: We may see weeks, perhaps even months of wrangling and maneuvering amongst Kosovo Albanians for over who is going to now fill the big post, the head of the largest part of the LDK. The presidency of Kosovo, the head of Kosovo's negotiating team.

BEARDSLEY: Agron Birami(ph) is Editor in Chief of Kosovo's main Albanian language newspaper, Koha Ditore. He says that after what happened in the 1990s, Kosovo Albanians could never again live under Belgrade's rule.

AGRON BIRAMI: These days even the Serb officials are saying publicly that they are not interested into ruling Albanians. They just want to have the territory under their sovereignty. And if this is about territories and not about people, then I think well we should think twice whether we are just setting the stage for the next conflict.

BEARDSLEY: Off the record, international officials working in Kosovo say that some form of independence with conditions attached will be the likely outcome of status talks. Independence or not, says Kosovo Albanian Analyst Duca Jin Garani.(ph) Rugova's departure far from leaving a vacuum may finally clear the way for real debate and democracy in Kosovo. Garani likens Rugova to many of the region's other previous dictators.

DUCA JIN GARANI: He could affect mindset of population by imposing himself as a fatherly figure. Patriarchal perceptions are still strong in this part of the world. Rugova utilized that mindset so that he gained moral dictatorship over Kosovos.

BEARDSLEY: With Rugova gone, Kosovo is finally through with nationalist Balkan politics of the 1990s says Garani. Now he hopes Kosovo will be able to focus on new leadership, developing its economy and moving toward eventual integration with the European Union. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.