Friday, June 09, 2006

UN envoy arrives in Kosovo as police clash with protestors

PRISTINA, Serbia, June 9, 2006 (AFP) -

The top United Nations envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, arrived in Pristina Friday hours after riot police clashed with ethnic Albanian protestors in the disputed Serbian province.

More than 50 riot police used protective shields to push back about 100 of the demonstrators, who were protesting against the presence of the UN mission that has administered Kosovo since the war that ended in 1999.

The protestors were trying to block the entrance to the headquarters of the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in the provincial capital Pristina, where Ahtisaari is visiting for three days.

Ahtisaari met Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku shortly after arriving, and discussed the status of ongoing UN-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina on the future of the province.

Ahtisaari described the talks, launched in February, as an "effort to create the conditions where minorities in Kosovo can have a decent life and good future."

He said he would brief the UN Security Council in July on the progress of the talks, which have yet to address the sensitive topic of the status of the province. Ethnic Albanian majority has demanded independence, opposed by Belgrade.

"We will then start moving towards discussion on the actual status, most hopefully later in July," Ahtisaari said, adding that expert talks on technical issues would nevertheless continue at the same time.

Belgrade has said it could accept a large degree of autonomy for the province within Serbia, but the majority ethnic Albanian population wants nothing short of independence.

The Kosovo conflict ended in mid-1999, when NATO air strikes drove out forces loyal to former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

During the weekend, Finish diplomat Ahtisaari is set to meet a number of senior international officials and leaders of Kosovo's Serb minority.

His arrival was shadowed with the protest of ethnic Albanian demonstrators, members of a youth movement called "Self-determination" which is seeking Kosovo's independence without any negotiations.

The police arrested 55 of the demonstrators, including their leader Albin Kurti, before forming a cordon around the UN mission building.

"We are establishing a level of responsibility of those arrested, whose total number is now 82," police spokesman Veton Elshani told AFP.

After the incident, about 100 protestors remained close to the UN headquarters, although the police cordon prevented them from approaching the premises.

The clashes came after police used force to break a blockade of the UNMIK building and arrest 36 protestors earlier on Friday. Nine of them were later released because they were juveniles.

"Police used minimal force and only when it was necessary because the protestors were resisting and some of them were tied to one another," Elshani said.

The group also staged a large protest outside the building on Thursday against the presence of UN mission that has administered Kosovo since the 1998-1999 war between separatist Albanian guerrillas and Serbian forces.

The future status of Kosovo, which legally remains a part of Serbia, is to be determined in UN-backed talks by the year's end.

No comments: