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Serbs spark crisis 
for UN in Kosovo 

Kosovo: special report
Peter Beaumont in Pristina
Monday June 5, 2000
The Guardian


The United Nations mission in Kosovo was plunged into new difficulties yesterday as Serb leaders withdrew from the province's interim administrative body and demanded effective self-rule in their own strongholds, in protest at killings of Serb civilians by Kosovan Albanian extremists.

As the security council prepares to meet next week to review the first 12 months of the mission in Kosovo, Serb leaders announced that they would be sending a delegation to New York to demand amendments to resolution 1244 - the mandate for the UN effort - to protect Serb rights in Kosovo and allow the establishment "of functional self-rule" in areas occupied by Serbs.

In addition, moderate Serb leaders say that they have already asked European officials in the region to send anti-terrorism experts to back up the Kosovo protection force and the UN's international police force. The statement by the Serb national council, meeting at the ancient monastery of Gracanica, comes amid disillusionment among many officials serving with the UN mission over the resurgence of ethnic violence and organised crime in Kosovo, and the apparent unwillingness of senior officials to take on the ethnic Albanian leaders suspected of involvement in both.

The Serbs' decision is doubly embarrassing for the UN mission, which is preparing to mark the first anniversary of its mandate this weekend and has been making strenuous efforts to persuade Serbs to share its vision of a multi-ethnic democratic society.

But the Serb community is angry about an eruption of violence in the last week that has left eight of their members dead in four incidents. The most recent took place early last Friday, when a car hit an anti-tank mine which had been planted overnight on a British-controlled road a few miles from Pristina. Two men died, and a woman and two children were injured.

The decision to withdraw from the Albanian dominated administrative council is also a blow for Bernard Kouchner, the head of the UN mission, who had recently managed to persuade moderate Serbs, backed by the Serbian Orthodox church, to attend the council as observers prior to full involvement.

It comes amid a campaign for voter registration for the region's first local elections, scheduled for the autumn. While more than 250,000 ethnic Albanians have been persuaded to register, only a few thousand of the province's remaining 95,000 Serbs - from a community originally numbering 250,000 - have registered to vote.

Following the meeting yesterday, Father Sava, a moderate Serb leader who has backed Serb involvement in Kosovo's nascent democratic process, indicated that many Serb leaders wanted to end cooperation with the UN, rather than suspending their involvement until the security council meets.

"The international community has got to decide whether Kosovo is going to be a lawless place or move towards being a democratic society," he said. "At the moment, the international community is not really prepared to take the lead against Albanian terrorism or confront the problem of organised crime."

He added: "We are aware of the efforts that are being made to protect Serb people, particularly in the British sector which seems determined to work in an even-handed way. But in the last two months of our cooperation with the UN administration we have seen a resurgence of organised crime all over Kosovo."

The rise in the violence and intimidation against the remaining Serb community comes despite intense efforts to make Serbs feel secure. Many Serbian villages south of Pristina have been turned into virtual fortresses, protected by checkpoints, watch towers and constant helicopter and ground patrols.

However, despite a ratio of one peacekeeping soldier for every three Serbs in Kosovo, the Nato-led troops have been powerless to prevent the latest outbreak of violence.