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Originally published Saturday, February 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Reichert among eight U.S. lawmakers visiting Kosovo

Eight U.S.lawmakers, including Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., visited Kosovo today amid regional tensions over a U. N. plan that could give...

The Associated Press

PRISTINA, Serbia — Eight U.S lawmakers, including Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., visited Kosovo today amid regional tensions over a U.N. plan that could give the Serbian province supervised statehood.

The delegation, led by independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, also included Republican senators John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, along with Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Mark Udall, D-Colo.

They were in Kosovo on a brief, fact-finding mission, and met with Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku, said Lawrence Corwin, a spokesman for the U.S. office in the province. The lawmakers also visited a 14-century Serbian Orthodox monastery of Gracanica.

Reichert's office said the group also would visit Munich this weekend for a conference with world leaders to discuss international security policy.

Last week, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari unveiled a proposal for the future status of Kosovo, which envisages that the majority ethnic Albanian province be granted internationally supervised self-rule with the trappings of statehood. The proposal also offers a high degree of self-rule to the Serb minority living in isolated enclaves in the province.

Ethnic Albanian leaders have endorsed the plan, while Serbian officials have rejected it. The two sides have been invited for further consultations before the final version of the plan is presented to the U.N. Security Council for approval next month.

"This is a critical period now," Lieberman told reporters. "We're looking forward to the implementation of those recommendations as Kosovo moves on to achieve its rightful status as an independent nation."

McCain said he hoped Ahtisaari's proposal will be accepted and implemented by both sides.

"We can applaud the people of Kosovo and their struggle for freedom and democracy. They've come a very long way," he said.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations for nearly eight years following NATO's air war that halted Serb forces' crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. About 1,500 U.S. troops are based in Kosovo as part of the 16,000-strong NATO peacekeeping force.

Lieberman and McCain were both supporters of the intervention in Kosovo, where the United States is considered a savior by ethnic Albanians for its role in leading NATO's air strikes.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people, are seeking independence from Belgrade. But Serbia and Kosovo's Serb minority say the province is the heart of Serbia's ancient homeland and should remain within its borders.

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