Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Talks Between Serbs, Ethnic Albanians On Kosovo Fail

VIENNA (AP)--Ethnic Albanian and Serbian negotiators failed Tuesday to finalize an agreement on the protection of Serbian Orthodox religious sites in Kosovo, officials said.

It was the seventh time that both sides have met in Vienna this year for U.N.-mediated negotiations, which aim to determine whether Kosovo remains part of Serbia or becomes independent.

"We will sit with the experts to work on a compromise," a U.N.-appointed mediator, Petr Ivantsov, said after the meeting, which deadlocked over the protected perimeters around 39 Serbian Orthodox religious sites in Kosovo.

Albanian representatives suggested the Serbs were at fault. Ylber Hysa, the head of the ethnic Albanian delegation, said "the Serbian side was not at all open" to compromise.

Kosovo's minority Serbs, whose communities have been attacked by ethnic Albanians several times since the end of the war, want guarantees that their religious and cultural sites will be protected. They also want more say in running their own affairs.

Serbian negotiator Slobodan Samardzic was less critical. "We did not expect marvelous results ... this is a part of a process," he said.

Serbs consider Kosovo to be central to their history and culture, and important Serbian religious and historic sites are located there. In March 2004, more than 30 medieval churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged in anti-Serb riots.

In late May, the two delegations reached a tentative agreement on the protection of Serbian Orthodox religious sites, leading to hopes that this round would be able to work out some details.

Under the deal, Serbian Orthodox dioceses in Kosovo would have the right to maintain special ties with the patriarchate in Belgrade and would also enjoy tax privileges, freedom of movement and the right to run other affairs. Ivantsov said that details about these issues were on the agenda, but that the negotiators focused on protected areas.

Tension between the two communities has remained high since the end of the war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.

The province officially remains part of Serbia, although it has been run by a U.N. administration and patrolled by international peacekeepers since a 1999 NATO aerial bombardment halted the Serb military crackdown.

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