Monday, September 18, 2006

Bomb damages four cars in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Serbia (AP) - A bomb exploded in a village in southern Kosovo, damaging cars but causing no injuries, in the third such attack in as many days amid ongoing talks on the province's future status, police said Monday.

The explosion Sunday night was caused by a small bomb placed under a car in a parking lot outside a restaurant in Balaj village, 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the capital, Pristina, police spokeswoman Sabrie Kamberi said.

Four cars were damaged, Kamberi said, but it was unclear if the restaurant itself was a target.

Police also said they did not yet have evidence to link the explosion to two others over the weekend. Authorities have increased security at public institutions, including schools, Kamberi said, without elaborating.

The blasts raised tensions amid ongoing U.N.-led negotiations on whether Kosovo should become independent -- which the province's ethnic Albanian leadership wants -- or have broad autonomy but remain a part of Serb territory, as Belgrade insists.

Last week, a U.N. envoy to the talks in Vienna, Austria, said the two sides had made little progress in reaching common ground, and that the negotiations were in jeopardy.

Two other bombs exploded, one Friday night and one Saturday night, injuring no one but damaging cars belonging to Kosovo's interior minister and a senior government official in Gnjilane, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Pristina.

Kosovo's parliament speaker, Kole Berisha, said he considered both blasts were directed against the talks to undermine stability at a decisive moment.

The top U.N. administrator in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, also blamed people wishing to disrupt negotiations for a peaceful and democratic settlement for Kosovo.

Martti Ahtisaari, the chief U.N. envoy for Kosovo, was in New York to brief key members of the U.N. Security Council on the progress -- or lack of it -- in the status talks, which began in February.

The U.N. hopes to resolve the issue by the end of the year, but the failure so far to resolve the stalemate between the two sides has increased the likelihood that the Security Council will impose a solution by declaring Kosovo independent.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, have been pushing for independence, but Serbs insist the province is the heart of their ancient homeland and should remain part of Serbia. Serb minority communities in Kosovo also want to remain under Belgrade.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when NATO air strikes drove out Serb troops who had carried out a bloody crackdown on its Albanian population. About 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers still patrol the province.

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