Saturday, July 22, 2006

UN, NATO must isolate north Kosovo from Serbia: PM

PRISTINA, Serbia, July 22, 2006 (AFP) -

The prime minister of Kosovo on Saturday called on the province's UN administration to increase security on its northern border to isolate it from Serbia proper.

"KFOR (NATO peacekeepers) and (the UN administration) UNMIK have to undertake measures in order to isolate this part (of Kosovo) from Serbia, politically and practically, and establish such measures on the border which are the same as on the rest of the Kosovo borders," PM Agim Ceku said.

He was speaking before attending UN-sponsored talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders in Vienna on Monday, the first such meeting since the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.

The one-day meeting in Vienna, chaired by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, is expected to tackle for the first time the core issue of Kosovo's future status and the ethnic Albanians' demands for full independence.

Ceku said the border between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia was so "soft" that visitors did not believe that it was a border at all, believing instead that the border is on the Ibar river, which runs through the volatile and ethnicly-divided town Kosovska Mitrovica.

The river separates and marks the boundary between the biggest Serb-populated area in northern Kosovo with about 60,000 inhabitants and about two million ethnic Albanians in the rest of the UN-administered Serbian province.

One of the toughest issues at the talks is the issue of northern Kosovo,

where Serbs have been calling for the partition of the province.

Serbs warn that this region along the border with Serbia proper would secede if independence was granted to Pristina.

In June, Serbs in the north proclaimed a "state of emergency", cutting off their relations with the Kosovo institutions, a move considered to be a first step towards the partition of the province.

The decision, strongly opposed by the Kosovo Albanian and UN authorities, came after a series of small-scale attacks against Serbs, including a murder of a young Serb man.

Kosovo, legally still a province of Serbia, has been run by the UN and NATO since mid-1999, when the military alliance's air war drove out forces loyal to then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic over a crackdown against the province's separatist ethnic Albanian majority.

The international mission in Kosovo has failed to enforce its mandate in the Serb-dominated north and to sever Belgrade's influence.

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