Wednesday, June 07, 2006

U.N. official: Belgrade not encouraging Kosovo Serbs to participate in political life

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) - The United Nations' top official in Kosovo blamed Serbia on Wednesday for failing to encourage Kosovo's Serb minority to participate in the province's political life.

U.N. mediators involved in negotiations aimed at settling Kosovo's postwar status -- namely whether the territory will become independent from Serbia -- have been pressing for Kosovo's Serbs and other minorities to take a bigger role in the provincial government.

"I'm concerned that we are not still seeing any noticeable improvement in the conditions of the Kosovo Serbs, despite all the efforts of the provisional government in Kosovo," said Soren Jessen-Petersen, who directs the U.N. administration that has helped run Kosovo's day-to-day affairs since the end of the war in 1999.

"I think the main reason is that -- despite calls on Belgrade to encourage Kosovo Serbs to participate in the political dialogue in Kosovo -- they have not been given that encouragement," he said.

Jessen-Petersen arrived in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on Wednesday to brief officials about the latest developments in neighboring Kosovo, before presenting his report on the province to the U.N. Security Council on June 20.

The U.N.-brokered talks are being held in Vienna, Austria. Kosovo's ethnic Albanians are hoping to gain independence, but the province's Serbs and Serbian leaders in Belgrade want to keep at least a partial hold on the territory.

"I'm confident that before the end of the year we will see the settlement of the status of Kosovo," Jessen-Petersen said.

Nearly seven years after the end of the war in 1999, the ethnic groups remain divided, with Kosovo Serbs mainly living in isolated enclaves and fearing attacks by ethnic Albanian extremists.

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