Serbs refuse Kosovo's independence, recall deadly riots

Published on April 3, 2007, Yahoo News

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

Kosovo Serbs said on Saturday they would not accept any division of the province from Serbia as they marked the third anniversary of rioting that killed 19 people and displaced thousands.

Church bells rang throughout the mainly ethnic-Albanian province's Serb enclaves exactly at midday.

"Today, when Kosovo's fate is being decided by the world powers, we will not agree to the partition of Kosovo from Serbia," Bishop Artemije, a leading Serb Orthodox leader in the province, said in a speech in Gracanica. "Whatever they decide and undertake we have to remain determined," he said.

Candles were also lit at an Orthodox church in Gracanica, 8 kilometres southeast of the provincial capital Pristina, where several hundred people gathered to pay tribute to eight Serbs who were killed during the 2004 riots.

The UN Security Council will be asked in the coming weeks to consider a plan put forward by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari following the failure of year-long talks between Serbia and Kosovo Albanians.

The plan, which Ahtisaari revised after a final round of talks that ended deadlocked last week, would grant Kosovo self-rule, its own flag and anthem and membership of international organisations.

According to Albanian-language Kosovo media, the proposals sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon contain a previously unseen annex that recommends granting Kosovo independence with international monitoring.

"Martti Ahtisaari is very clear in his main recommendation: monitored independence for Kosovo is the most realistic and best solution for Kosovo and the region," the daily Zeri quoted a western diplomat who has seen the text as saying.

During the three days of violence in the UN-run province in March 2004, villages populated by Kosovo's minority Serbs came under attack by ethnic Albanian extremists.

Along with the eight Serbs, 11 ethnic Albanians were killed. More than 900 were injured, including foreign police and peacekeepers.

The NATO-led mission in Kosovo was sharply criticised for failing to stop the rampage, in which 4,000 people, mainly Serbs, were expelled from their homes.

Dozens of Serb Orthodox churches, monasteries and other religious sites, some dating back centuries, were also destroyed or damaged.

The southern Serbian province of Kosovo has been controlled by the UN and NATO since June 1999 following a NATO air war which forced troops loyal to late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw and end a crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

In a statement to reporters at Pristina airport, before flying to New York to attend a UN meeting on Kosovo on Monday, president Fatmir Sejdiu said "it is very important for us to remember this (the March riots) as a bad event and story which will never be repeated."

"President Ahtisaari proposed a monitored independence for Kosovo. It is very important for us that the fields in which the international monitoring will be concentrating have to do with security and rule of the law," he added.

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