PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro, May 15, 2006 (AFP) -
Kosovo's prime minister appealed Monday for calm among his fellow ethnic Albanians after a series of attacks against minority Serbs in the disputed province's tense north.
"We have to make the first step today, to conquer ... the fear that Serbs who live here represent a danger for us," Agim Ceku said in a radio address.
"They do not. Reducing this fear is the foundation for creating reciprocal trust and feelings of confidence."
Ceku's statement came the week after a spate of attacks against Serbs, including two men who were shot and seriously wounded while working at a petrol station in the northern part of the province.
Following the shooting on Thursday, a Serbian Orthodox Church was damaged in a nearby area and a UN-marked bus carrying Serbs to the divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica was stoned.
The Kosovo prime minister's appeal is seen by observers as recognition that the incidents were putting at risk UN-backed talks on the future status of Kosovo.
It is the first of its kind by politicians representing either of the two ethnic groups.
Since Kosovo's 1998-99 conflict, some 200,000 Serbs have fled the province fearing reprisals by Albanian extremists, while the remaining 100,000 live in fear for their lives and property.
Ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of Kosovo's population of around two million, hope the UN-sponsored talks will lead to its independence from Serbia.
However, in his radio address on Monday, Ceku told his fellow citizens that everyone must be treated equally for there to be "freedom".
"Denying the chance of accepting diversity is a sign of the collective unfitness to walk in accordance with time and overcome challenges of the world around you," he said.