BELGRADE, Jan 9 (AFP) -
Belgrade believes Serb-populated areas in Kosovo should be allowed to band togther to form institutions to guarantee their rights, according to a news agency report Monday.
Serb-populated municipalities should be established in the areas of Kosovo where the community makes up a majority of the inhabitants, the Beta agency said, quoting the position, or platform, adopted at a meeting of the Serbian negotiating team last week.
Kosovo is overwhelmingly inhabited by ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population of two million. About 80,000 Serbs live in the province, 30,000 of them in enclaves in the central part of Kosovo, protected by the NATO-led peace keeping force.
The province, legally still a part of Serbia, has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO bombing campaign ousted Belgrade-controlled forces in 1999 to end a Serbian crackdown against separatist Albanian rebels.
Negotiating teams representing Belgrade and Pristina are to begin direct talks on Kosovo in late January, under the supervision of the UN special envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.
Municipalities with Serb majorities "would not make up a compact territory ... but would represent an institutional framework for normal life and the safe survival of the Serb community in the province," the Serbian team's negotiating position said.
They should be able to form joint committees and have "guaranteed direct institutional relations with Belgrade," the platform said.
"Through decentralisation, living conditions for Serbs in Kosovo can be normalised. Full protection of their rights demands institutional guarantees... above all, in the parliament of Kosovo," the platform said.
Formation of Serb municipalities should provide constitutional guarantees and legal protection for the Serb community be able to survive in the province, it added.
"The legal and constitutional position of the Serb community in Kosovo must be determined in a way that the Albanian majority will have no legal basis to treat Serbs as a minority that can be forced to accept solutions contrary to its vital interests," the platform said.
Ethnic tensions remain high as Albanians want to break away from Belgrade which considers the province as a cradle of Serbian culture and history.
"Such guarantees could easily be introduced through a process of decentralisation which should enable local municipalities to get a series of concrete competences and authorities" such as full cultural, financial and economic autonomy as well as local police and legal control, it said.
According to Belgrade, more than 200,000 Kosovo Serbs have fled the province fearing reprisals from ethnic Albanian extremists since the UN took control in June 1999.