August 4, 2006

Major powers warn of tensions in north Kosovo

By Matt Robinson

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The major powers voiced concern on
Friday at tensions in northern Kosovo, where there are growing
signs of Serb resistance as the majority Albanian province
pushes for independence from Serbia.

A statement issued by the six-member Contact Group
expressed concern at "recent developments" in the mainly Serb
north of Kosovo adjacent to central Serbia.

It did not specify which developments. Reports suggest
Serbs there are strengthening what they say are self-defense
groups made up of former military and police officers.

"Both Belgrade and Pristina should take immediate steps to
reduce tensions in northern Kosovo, particularly to encourage
responsible leadership and build confidence among communities,"
said the statement, issued by the U.S. liaison office in Kosovo
on behalf of the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy
and Russia.

Seven years since NATO bombs drove out Serb forces and the
United Nations took control, the West is pushing for a decision
on Kosovo's fate in 2006. Some Serb leaders have threatened to
split it in two if the Albanians win independence.

Three northern Serb municipalities, home to around 50,000
Serbs or almost half Kosovo's Serb population, have already cut
what minimal cooperation they had with the Albanian-dominated
institutions in Pristina, citing security concerns.

The statement called on "Belgrade, Pristina and Kosovo's
residents to take steps to ensure northern Kosovo remains a
stable region where the rights of all are respected."


Diplomats say the 90-percent Albanian province is likely to
win independence under European Union-supervision. U.N.
mediator Martti Ahtisaari is working to propose a settlement to
the U.N. Security Council by year-end. He opened talks in

The Contact Group, which sets international policy on
Kosovo, says the north must remain part of Kosovo. It fears
that splitting the province in two would revive separatism in
south Serbia and Macedonia, where Albanians took up arms in

The 17,000-strong NATO peace force in June reopened its
only base in the north, and the West is mulling a specific
international mission to oversee the area's integration.

The province of 2 million has been run by the U.N. since
1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic
cleansing in a war with Albanian rebels. Half the Serb
population fled a wave of revenge attacks after the war.

The 100,000 Serbs left lead a grim, ghettoized existence,
financially supported and politically guided by Belgrade. Serbs
in the north enjoy greater freedom, forming the majority above
the Ibar River with a clear land link to the rest of Serbia.

Belgrade says it does not want to partition Kosovo. But
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on Monday that, in the
event independence is imposed, Belgrade would declare Kosovo an
integral part of Serbian territory. Serbs consider Kosovo the
cradle of their nation stretching back 1,000 years.