UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The Serbian government has left minority Serbs in Kosovo isolated and unable to make informed choices, a tactic that can only complicate negotiations on the tiny province's future, a U.N. official said Tuesday.
Belgrade bars the 100,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo from joining the province's government and sometimes forces them to choose between taking a salary from Serbia or from Kosovo, top U.N. envoy Soren Jessen-Petersen told the U.N. Security Council.
"I do not see any merit to Belgrade's isolationist policy from the point of view of Kosovo's Serbs," Jessen-Petersen told the Security Council.
The briefing was Jessen-Petersen's last before he steps down June 30 as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Kosovo, which has been under U.N. stewardship since 1999.
Talks are under way to determine whether Kosovo becomes an independent state or remains attached to Serbia. They have stumbled because Kosovo insists on full independence, while Serbia says it will only allow the province greater autonomy.
A key stumbling block has been the fate of the ethnic Serbs who make up less than 10 percent of the population.
Jessen-Petersen was briefing the council on a report in which Annan said neither the ethnic Albanians or Serbs will benefit unless they show more willingness to make concessions in the talks on Kosovo's future.
Yet Jessen-Petersen said Kosovo is making progress and its leaders showed a "far greater willingness" to reach out to minorities, particularly the Kosovo Serbs.
The problem, he said, is that Serbs are left "confused, exposed and isolated" because of the messages sent by the Serbian government. Many of them want to take part in Kosovo's administration but are barred from doing so.
He suggested that Belgrade makes Kosovo Serbs feel that crimes against them are always motivated by ethnicity, an unfair characterization that "perpetuates a climate of insecurity."
Serbia's representative at the meeting, Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, rejected Jessen-Petersen's remarks, saying that Kosovo Serbs should only participate if they can do so in a meaningful way.
Raskovic-Ivic stressed that Belgrade believes Kosovo Serbs face grave danger from the ethnic Albanians there.
"The very right to survival of Serbs and non-Albanians, a definite minority in the province, has been threatened," she said.
The current talks on Kosovo's future are being held under the auspices of the United Nations, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and Italy. That group has said it wants a solution by the end of the year.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians took up arms in 1998 to secede from Serbia, triggering a brutal government crackdown which led to NATO military intervention in 1999 that eventually forced Serbia to hand over authority of Kosovo to a temporary U.N. administration and NATO peacekeepers.