PRISTINA, Serbia, Nov 18, 1999 -- (Reuters) Warnings that northern Kosovo was becoming a Serb enclave leading to de facto partition of the province were dismissed by a NATO official on Wednesday as "gloomy assessments".
But he admitted it could be a long time before Albanians and Serbs can live alongside each other in Kosovo without peacekeepers, and did not repeat NATO's insistence on creating a "multi-ethnic" society in what is now an international protectorate.
"We have to look hard at how we can ensure some degree of cohabitation if not integration. It's going to be a challenge," the official conceded.
The independent Kosovo Albanian publisher Veton Surroi told NATO legislators at the weekend that the alliance should drop its insistence on a "multi-ethnic" Kosovo, saying his people equated that phrase with forced cohabitation.
Surroi said NATO and the United Nations should concentrate on fostering tolerance in the province, backed by adequate courts and police.
The NATO official said recent media reports that Kosovo was condemned to canonization or partition did not reflect NATO's determination not to repeat the mistakes of Bosnia, where the intransigence of Serb nationalists was often realized too late.
Briefing reporters, he said some Kosovo Serbs who left in fear of revenge attacks by Kosovo Albanians were coming home from a Serbian heartland in which "they are not welcome".
They had no prospects in Serbia, where nearly 10 percent of the population is now made up of refugees from nearly a decade of conflict in ex-Yugoslavia, and Kosovo was "not such a bad alternative", he said. But no statistics were available.
The official stressed that Serbs were getting the close protection of NATO troops in the KFOR peacekeeping mission, which minorities in Kosovo need. NATO is providing round-the-clock guard for elderly Serbs in ethnically mixed areas and parking tanks outside Serb Orthodox churches to deter arson attacks.
Some 90 percent of the Kosovo population were ethnic Albanians before Serb repression prompted the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia earlier this year, leading to the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces and international control of the province.
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