Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Kosovo and Serbia postpone talks on missing persons - AFP

Talks between Kosovo and Serbia on the fate of more than 3,000 people still missing from the 1998-1999 war have been postponed at Pristina's request following the war crimes indictment of former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, officials said Wednesday.

Acting Kosovo Prime Minister Adem Salihaj told reporters that the government of the UN-administered province "considers that timing for the resumption of a dialogue on the missing is not satisfactory" following Haradinaj's surrender to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Haradinaj, former rebel commander in the ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the uprising against Belgrade, stepped down as the province's prime minister Tuesday after receiving information that he was indicted by the UN court over his role in the Kosovo war.

His surrender came a day ahead of the long-awaited resumption of talks between Pristina and Belgrade, derailed in March 2004 following an outbreak of anti-Serb violence in the province that left 19 dead and thousands homeless.

Chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the first face-to-face talks between the two sides for a year had been scheduled to take place Thursday in Belgrade.

The ICRC said in a statement that Kosovo's government had demanded the talks be postponed, adding that a new date for the meeting would be announced "in the coming days."

The postponement of the talks was also confirmed by Belgrade's Coordination center for Kosovo, a top body dealing with issues in the province.

Of 3,192 people still listed as missing from the war, 2,460 are from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, 529 are Serbs and 203 are from other ethnic backgrounds.

Kosovo became a UN protectorate after a NATO bombing campaign aimed at ending a crackdown by the forces of then-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic on the ethnic Albanian majority, which seeks independence from Serbia.

Top Serbian and Kosovo politicians held their first talks since the war in October 2003 in Vienna, agreeing to launch a dialogue on matters of mutual concern such as missing persons, energy, communications and refugees.

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