Kosovo Serbs said close to ending boycott of UN joint council

PRISTINA, Jan 26, 2000 -- (AFP) Kosovo's Serbs are close to joining the province's U.N.-sponsored joint administration which they have boycotted since it was set up last month, U.N. Kosovo chief Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday.

Serbian leaders had promised to give him a final decision within 10 days and he was "hopeful" they would join the Interim Administrative Council (IAC), on which ethnic Albanian leaders already sit.

"If the Serbs come back this is, according to your humble servant, a big success," Kouchner said.

Representatives of the Yugoslav province's Serbian community met western administrators Monday in the Orthodox monastery of Gracanica on Pristina's southern outskirts and agreed that participation would be "acceptable," a statement released late Monday said.

Leaders of the large Serbian community of Mitrovica in the north could not join the meeting owing to heavy snowfall but would be consulted before a final decision is made.

The announcement marked a turning point in the Serb attitude to the IAC, which they have boycotted after accusing the U.N. mission (UNMIK) of failing to consult them on the structure.

The move to join the IAC was backed by both Bishop Artemije, leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, and Momcilo Trajkovic, head of the executive board of the Serb National Council (SNC).

In the statement released after Monday's three-hour meeting, the SNC said the "Program for Co-existence" submitted by Kouchner to allow their participation was acceptable.

Church spokesman Father Sava said Friday that UNMIK "is understanding more and more that the Serb side has to be accepted as an equal partner in this and not just be a decoration in the bouquet."

Kouchner promised more security and utilities for the Serb community, many of whom live in enclaves guarded by international peacekeepers to protect them from revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians.

But he said he had refused to allow Serbs any "cantonization" or other forms of self-government.

One IAC seat has been reserved for the Serbs, who will join ethnic Albanian former rebel chief Hashim Thaci, veteran moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova and Rexhep Qosja, head of the Unified Democratic Movement.

Serbs will also co-head, together with UNMIK officials, two of the 19 departments in the new administration, designed to involve locals in running the province, administered solely by UNMIK since June.

The SNC statement added that the issue of Kosovo's status "will be solved, when the time comes, by the democratic governments in the Republic of Serbia, the federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Kosovar Albanians, the Kosovar Serbs, and the international community."

Under last June's U.N. resolution that ended NATO's 78-day air campaign to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo and halt their oppression of ethnic Albanians, Kosovo remains a Yugoslav province with "substantial autonomy."

But both Thaci and Rugova say it must ultimately gain independence, while Qosja has said unification with Albania would be natural.

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