Sunday, September 24, 2006

Serbia says UN negotiator in Kosovo talks is biased

BELGRADE, Sept 24, 2006 (AFP) -

The United Nations mediator chairing talks over the future status of Serb province of Kosovo should step down as he clearly backs Albanian separatist views on the issue, the Serb government said Sunday.

"It would be more honest of (Marti) Ahtisaari if he stepped down instead of seeing him openly, in front of the whole world, fall in line behind the Albanian speraratists," government spokesman Srdjan Djuric said of the UN special envoy for Kosovo and former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari.

"We are entitled to ask ourselves whether or not Mr. Ahtisaari will organise, as his mandate stipulates, serious negotiations over the future of the province," Djuric told the Tanjug news agency.

Kosovo, sandwiched between Serbia, Albania and Macedonia, is nominally part of Serbia but it has been under United Nations administration since 1999.

The UN took over after a NATO-led bombing campaign against Serbia that was triggered by Belgrade's violent attempts to crack down on ethnic Albanian separatists in the region.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which makes up about 90 percent of the province, wants independence, but Belgrade and the minority Serb community insist the region is the cradle of Serb nationhood and cannot be given away.

Ahtisaari, who was named special envoy to the region late last year, has been trying to broker a long-term deal between Belgrade and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians since February but he has made little progress.

Djuric's comments came after foreign ministers from the so-called Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States -- met with Ahtisaari at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday.

At the talks, the ministers reaffirmed their goal of achieving a "status agreement" between Kosovars and Serbia by the end of the year and instructed Ahtisaari to draw up a status agreement proposal for presentation back to the ministerial group in four to six weeks time.

They also called on Belgrade "to cease its obstruction of Kosovo Serb participation in Kosovo's institutions".

Djurica heavily criticised the move to draw up a status agreement proposal, slamming what he saw as Ahtisaari's haste in wanting to propose a solution to the question.

"If Mr. Ahtisaari is in a great hurry and cannot find time to prepare seriously for negotiations, he needs to understand that Kosovo is a vital question for us, we are talking about our destiny and that is more important than one person's haste or agitation," the government spokesman said.

Djurica stressed Serbia would "reject all solutions that involve a modification of our borders" and he praised Russia for supporting Belgrade on this point.

"Russia's position, which clearly defends the principles of international law, is of the utmost importance for us," he said.

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