Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova, a central figure in the province's political life for the past 15 years, has announced he has lung cancer. In a TV address Monday, he said he would "overcome this battle" and stay on in office.
By Erlis Selimaj for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 05/09/05
Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova returned to Pristina on Saturday (4 September) after a week of medical treatment at a military base in Germany. [AFP]
Addressing the people of Kosovo in a TV address on Monday (5 September), President Ibrahim Rugova said he has been diagnosed with lung cancer and would now undergo intensive treatment in order to "overcome this battle". He also said he has no plans to step down.
Rugova returned to Kosovo's capital, Pristina, on Saturday after a week of treatment at a US military base near Frankfurt, Germany. His health had sharply deteriorated in late August. He had already reduced his schedule and cancelled some engagements due to what were then described as "flu-like symptoms" affecting his lungs.
"Doctors have found that I suffer from a localised lung cancer and they have assigned me an intensive healing therapy," he said. "I am convinced that with the help of God I will overcome this battle."
The president's office has issued a statement saying he will return to his duties and responsibilities while undergoing treatment at his home.
The 61-year-old Rugova, a Sorbonne-educated writer and professor of literature, has spent more than 15 years at the centre of Kosovo politics and has been widely expected to lead the province into negotiations on its final status. The talks could begin later this year, if the UN determines that a group of internationally set standards is being met.
If Rugova were obliged to step down, it could throw Kosovo's political scene into turmoil at an especially sensitive time. No clear successor stands ready to take over as leader of his Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and analysts say his departure could set off a power struggle between intra-party factions. That, in turn, could spell the end of the LDK's dominance in Kosovo's politics, benefiting rival parties that have emerged over the past several years.
Representatives of local institutions and Kosovo's international administration have expressed hope that Rugova will get better soon. Following their meeting last week, EU foreign ministers echoed that sentiment.
Viewed as a moderate, Rugova led Kosovo's Albanians during a ten-year period of "passive resistance" to the regime of former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic. He successfully ran for president in March 2002, following the 1998-1999 war that ended in Belgrade's withdrawal from the province. He was re-elected last October.