Saturday, August 05, 2006

Envoys Urge Serbs, Albanians To Quell N Kosovo Tensions

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP)--International envoys overseeing talks on Kosovo's future Friday urged ethnic Albanians and Serbs to defuse tensions in the province's troubled north.

Diplomats from the so-called "contact group" - the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Russia - expressed concern about the situation in northern Kosovo, a Serb-dominated region in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province.

Local Serbian officials in northern Kosovo recently cut off contact with provincial institutions dominated by the ethnic Albanians following a number of violent incidents they blamed on ethnic Albanians.

Both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.N. increased their presence in the area to quell fears of violence.

International officials fear enmities might flare up between the two communities as talks on the province's future status enter a critical phase.

"Both Belgrade and Pristina should take immediate steps to reduce tensions in northern Kosovo, particularly to encourage responsible leadership and build confidence among communities," the group said in a statement.

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when NATO launched a campaign to stop a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians fighting for Kosovo's independence.

Talks to determine Kosovo's future are under way in Austria, with the next round starting Aug. 7.

Ethnic Albanians are pushing for independence, but Serbs want to keep Kosovo - an area Serbs consider their historic heartland - part of Serbia.

The contact group has set guidelines for the talks that reject returning to Belgrade's full control, its partition, or unification with another country in the region. It also has said the solution should be acceptable to Kosovo's people.

Western envoys are aiming for an agreement by the end of the year that at least would ensure the well-being of Kosovo's minorities, particularly Serbs.

U.N. officials recently proposed having a provisional international body supervise the northern Serb sector and integrate it into Kosovo's institutions once the status issue has been resolved.

The group pledged increased international engagement in Kosovo's north and called for the U.N.-run talks to include a solution for the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

"Solutions need to be found for the city of Mitrovica. New arrangements, now under discussion, should be functional, realistic and guarantee the rights of all residents," the statement said.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

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