Serbia effectively seeks Kosovo partition: sources

PRISTINA (Reuters) – Serbia has offered to govern ethnic Serb areas in Kosovo, senior diplomatic sources said on Tuesday, a plan that would effectively partition the newly independent state.

The proposal was made at the weekend by Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, but was rejected by the United Nations administrators of Kosovo which has a 90 percent Albanian majority.

“The proposal’s goal seems to be the partition of Kosovo, literally for Serbia to govern in the enclaves,” one source told Reuters. Another source in the U.N. mission UNMIK said this would be “a ratification of partition”.

Deputy UNMIK chief Larry Rossin confirmed on Tuesday that Samardzic, whom he met at the weekend, had delivered a document meant to be “a framework for a comprehensive relationship between Serbia and UNMIK”. He would not comment on the contents.

Backed by Russia, Serbia rejects the February 17 secession of its former province and is instructing the 120,000 remaining Serbs to sever ties with the Albanian majority and ignore a European Union supervisory mission.

Analysts say the Serbs’ bitter opposition to Albanian rule, demonstrated by riots in Mitrovica on Monday, has created the conditions of partition.

More than half the Serb minority lives in scattered enclaves in southern Kosovo. The rest live north of the river Ibar on a crescent of land backing into Serbia proper.

Policemen, doctors and teachers in the area which has the flashpoint town of Mitrovica as its centre take their orders and salaries from the Serbian government.

A TACIT WAY OUT

Serbia will not formally propose the carve-up of Kosovo because that would mean abandoning its title to the whole territory, which it insists on under international law.

Kosovo Albanian leaders also oppose partition and insist the new republic occupies the same borders as the old Serbian province.

The West formally opposes partition on the grounds that it would promote the notion of “ethnic states” in the Balkans that could provoke copy-cat moves.

In a report on Kosovo’s first month, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned that Kosovo must not become “another frozen conflict”.

“To seek to prevent this, more countries must recognize and embrace the new state,” it said, while the EU and NATO must demonstrate “to Serbia, supported by Russia, that it will not be permitted to break up the new state”.

Monday’s riot was sparked by a U.N. police operation to retake a U.N. court seized three days earlier by Serbs.

Serbia lost control of its southern province in 1999, when NATO intervened to halt the mass killing of ethnic Albanian civilians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Its loss is a very emotional issue for most Serbs who regard Kosovo as the cultural and religious heartland of their nation, and resent the West’s backing of the Albanians.

The United States and major European countries were the first to recognize Kosovo as independent, and the EU is aiming to deploy a law and order mission to guide the new state.

The so-called EULEX mission has said it plans to deploy across Kosovo but, for now, has pulled out its small advance team from the Serb-dominated north, citing security concerns.

(Reporting by Shaban Buza; Writing by Ellie Tzortzi; editing by Douglas Hamilton and Sami Aboudi)

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