Friday, November 05, 2004

Serbia Leaders Reiterate Fri They Won't Give Up Kosovo

Serbia won't give up U.N.-administered Kosovo, which is dominated by pro-independence ethnic Albanians, Serbia's leaders reiterated in a statement Friday.
The statement was issued after a late-night meeting in Belgrade, called by conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and attended by representatives of the country's major political parties.
To ensure safety for the dwindling Serb community in Kosovo, the minority "needs self-rule, with a higher form of authority than just local governments," the statement added.
The leadership in Belgrade also demanded to be a part of any future talks on Kosovo.

Serbia's authority over Kosovo was suspended in 1999, when North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing stopped a Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanian separatists. Talks on a final status for Kosovo could come as early as mid-2005.

In April, Kostunica's government proposed a plan under which Kosovo would be internally divided into five regions to grant the local Serbs a degree of self-rule and better security.

Friday's statement said that plan, overwhelmingly endorsed by Serbia's parliament, "represents the framework for any further activities of (Serbia's) state bodies" concerning Kosovo.

Efforts by the U.N. mission in Kosovo to create a peaceful and democratic society there have suffered several major setbacks, including an outbreak of ethnic violence in March and the Serb boycott of local elections last month.

The late-night meeting ending in Friday's statement, however, was not attended by Serbia's pro-Western president Boris Tadic, who, unlike the rest of the leadership, urged Kosovo Serbs to take part in the local election to avoid a deep isolation.

Less than 1% of Kosovo's Serbs cast ballots, citing a lack of security amid recurring attacks by Kosovo Albanian extremists.

Thursday, the U.N. administrator in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, warned Belgrade that "we are moving ahead" in Kosovo regardless of whether the Serbs take part in the process.

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