By Shaban Buza
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, Sept 28 (Reuters) - The most senior Serb police officer in Kosovo was shot and wounded on Wednesday in the third such attack in a southern pocket of the majority-Albanian province over the past month.
Dejan Jankovic, 30, the chief of police in Gnjilane, was wounded when his vehicle came under fire near in the southern region of Kacanik at around 6.00 pm (1600 GMT), Kosovo police spokesman Refki Morina told Reuters.
"He was injured in his arm and taken to Pristina hospital," said Morina. His injuries are not life threatening.
Kosovo's Albanian-dominated government condemned Wednesday's shooting. "Such attacks send a bad message, which the government and people of Kosovo find unacceptable," it said in a statement.
There are several hundred Serbs within Kosovo's 7,000-strong multi-ethnic police force. Jankovic was promoted to the rank of regional commander two weeks ago, becoming the highest ranking Serb in the force.
The attack follows the killing of two Serb men and wounding of a Serb policeman in drive-by shootings on Aug. 27 and Sept. 10 in the region of Strpce, a few kilometres west of Kacanik. The area lies at the foot of Kosovo's mountainous border with Macedonia.
The United Nations, which has run the province since NATO bombing drove out Serb forces in 1999, has refused to speculate on possible motives and made no arrests.
But Serb leaders in Belgrade blame what they call ethnic Albanian extremists trying to clinch independence by force as Kosovo nears negotiations on its final status.
Legally part of Serbia, Kosovo became a U.N. protectorate in 1999 after Western powers intervened to halt atrocities by Serb forces trying to crush an ethnic Albanian insurgency.
Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority want formal independence, which Serbia says is impossible.
Thousands of Serbs fled a wave of revenge attacks after the war. Some 100,000 remain, many in isolated enclaves patrolled by members of a 17,000 NATO-led peacekeeping force.
The United Nations expects to open status negotiations this year, possibly in November. U.N. special envoy Kai Eide will next week recommend the start of U.N.-mediated talks to determine the final status of Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province, a European diplomat said on Wednesday.
U.N. and NATO officials have warned of a possible upsurge in violence as Kosovo nears those talks, viewed with bitterness by many Albanians who resent the idea of negotiating with Serbia.
(Additional reporting by Branislav Krstic)