Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Kosovo President seriously ill?
By Shaban Buza
PRISTINA, Kosovo[Kosova] (Reuters) - Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova was reported to be seriously ill on Wednesday, raising concern about a possible succession just weeks before talks he hopes will lead to independence.
"He is in very serious condition," a senior foreign diplomat told Reuters in the Kosovo capital Pristina, without specifying the nature of Rugova's ailment. Rugova has been in a U.S. military hospital in Germany for the past four days.
The charismatic Rugova has no obvious successor in his faction-ridden Democratic League of Kosovo[Kosova] (LDK).
United Nations-mediated talks with Serbia on the future of its southern province are expected to begin by October, and Rugova hopes to lead Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians to full independence in 2006.
The 60-year-old president, a pacifist who has championed his people's independence aspirations for the past 15 years, was flown to the U.S. hospital at Landstuhl on Saturday.
Aides said his health had deteriorated after a bout of flu. An official spokesman refused on Wednesday to comment further on his health.
A hospital official at Landstuhl confirmed that Rugova was being treated but declined to give any details.
Kosovo[Kosova] became a de facto U.N. protectorate in 1999 after NATO bombing forced the withdrawal of Serb troops accused of atrocities in their conflict with Albanian separatist guerrillas.
Despite being eclipsed by the armed rebels, Rugova's popularity rebounded and he has been twice elected president since the war ended six years ago.
The LDK has relied heavily on his personal charisma to maintain a majority share of the vote among Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians, but is driven by factionalism.
Smaller parties led by former guerrilla war leaders Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj -- who is now in The Hague to answer war crimes charges -- have eroded LDK support and would hope to overtake the LDK if Rugova was no longer at its helm.