Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kosovo officials say Belgrade trying to avoid agreement on religious heritage

Excerpt from report by Beqe Cufaj entitled "Belgrade avoids agreement" published by Kosovo Albanian newspaper Koha Ditore on 19 July

Vienna, 18 July: Differences between Prishtina [Pristina] and Belgrade remained very big on the first day of the seventh round of talks in Vienna. At the second meeting on the protection of cultural and religious heritage, held in Vienna on Tuesday [18 July], the negotiators stayed true to their initial stances, although Prishtina's position seems to be closer to the demands of the international officials, while Belgrade has disappointed the expectations of Martti Ahtisaari [UN special envoy for Kosovo status talks].

As anticipated, the sources of disagreements on heritage issues were the protected zones and their number. The Serbs continue to insist on 40 such zones for 40 religious and cultural facilities, while the Kosovars expressed willingness to offer 14 protected zones. Another point of disagreement was the size of the zones. The Serbs have requested - both verbally and in writing - the rescinding of the decision on the seizure of the property of the Serb Orthodox Church in 1941. The international participants refused to include this issue on the agenda.

Petr Ivantsov, head of the Political Affairs Division in Martti Ahtisaari's office, who chaired the meeting on Tuesday, replacing Albert Rohan [Ahtisaari's deputy], who was said to have health problems, told a news conference that it had been planned to discuss several aspects of the agenda topics at the meeting, but they had focused on two of them: the protection zones around the religious sites and issues related to the mechanisms for the implementation of an agreement, and the return of the Kosova archives that were taken by Serbia.

Ivantsov explained that they succeeded in discussing only the issue of protection zones. This was done by means of UNOSEK [UN Office of the Special Envoy for Kosovo] presenting its draft proposals based on an agreement reached following the experts' visit to Kosova [Kosovo] 12-13 June and their visits to 15-16 zones.

"After this, Prishtina and Belgrade presented their proposals in response to our proposals," Ivantsov said, noting that "we can speak about differences between the three parties" on this topic. Without saying whether it was Belgrade or Prishtina that had moved further away from the proposals and the agreement reached in Decan [Decani], Ivantsov said, "It can be said that there is still room for other meetings" and that "UNOSEK experts will sit and discuss the proposals of the participating parties".

Meanwhile, Ylber Hysa, head of the Kosova delegation, told correspondents after the meeting that the Kosovar side had brought clear concepts that would provide for the protection of religious sites. According to Hysa, Prishtina is willing to offer a three-party - Prishtina, international community, and Kosova Serb - administration for the monitoring, protection and maintenance of religious sites.

On behalf of the Kosova delegation, Hysa advised that while the proposals of the international experts and UNOSEK and of the Prishtina delegation were close, the same could not be said about Belgrade's proposals.

"The Serbs tried to avoid agreement," Hysa said, adding: "With the proposals made today in Vienna, Belgrade will not help the Orthodox Church." [Passage omitted citing comments by Serbian delegation at the news conference after the meeting]

Source: Koha Ditore, Pristina, in Albanian 19 Jul 06

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