Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Kosovo Serbs boycott talks on minority protection in Kosovo

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Kosovo's Serbs have boycotted negotiations on the future of the disputed province, saying they would not accept being treated as a minority group.

A U.N. mediator said Tuesday that Serbian officials from Belgrade who attended the talks and ethnic Albanians remained far apart as they ended their negotiations on protecting the rights of Kosovo's minorities.

The meeting was the first time both sides had put the divisive issue on the agenda during their U.N.-brokered talks on the province's future status. U.N. envoy Bernhard Schlageck said no breakthrough was made.

He said the ethnic Albanian delegation presented concrete proposals on the representation of minorities in the province's institutions, as well as on language rights and freedom of movement, while Belgrade wanted the issue of minorities to be addressed in the final status settlement.

U.N. officials will travel to Pristina and Belgrade to pursue further talks, Schlageck said.

Schlageck said the boycott by Serbs from Kosovo was a mistake. "This decision is a missed opportunity to engage in a process which is of central importance for all of Kosovo's communities, not least the Serbian community."

The issue of minority rights is seen as crucial to resolving Kosovo's status. Though still a part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO-led air war ended a Serbian military crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, and there are about 100,000 Serbs, mostly living in communities across the province. Another 200,000 Serbs and other minorities -- including Turks, Bosnians and Gypsies -- fled during the 1999 NATO bombardment.

U.N. mediators are pushing the two sides to narrow their differences before tackling the ultimate issue -- whether Kosovo will become independent, as ethnic Albanians insist, or remain a part of Serbia, which Belgrade and the minority Serbs want.

Veton Surroi, an ethnic Albanian leader, said his delegation presented a document which included issues such as minorities' representation in official bodies, use of language and mechanisms designed to prevent minorities being outvoted.

"We believe this is part of our common goal, which is to integrate the identities of communities of Kosovo into a future independent Kosovo," Surroi said.

Kosovo's Serbs "will not accept the status of minority -- this would be a degradation of their status," Serbian envoy Dusan Batakovic said.

Batakovic referred to the ethnic Albanian proposals as "a long list of very good wishes" that cannot be achieved "at least in the next 20 years given the situation on the ground."

Negotiators have failed to reach agreement on most points in discussing how much say Serb-run municipalities should have in Kosovo.

No comments: