Kosovo Serbs appeal for ethnic tolerance

SOFIA, Mar 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) Kosovo Serb leaders said on Wednesday the problem of the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica could be solved only by the West imposing ethnic tolerance in the whole of the province.

They also said the dwindling Serb minority would not take part in municipal elections planned by the United Nations civil administration in Kosovo for later this year unless freedom was ensured for all the residents of Kosovo.

"There can be no one-sided decision in Mitrovica," Momcilo Trajkovic, chairman of the Serb Executive Council in Kosovo, told a news conference in the Bulgarian capital.

"A solution can be found only through establishing the principles of democracy and multi-ethnic tolerance throughout all of Kosovo."

More than 40 people, including 16 French KFOR soldiers, were injured by hand-grenade blasts and shooting on Tuesday in the Mitrovica, where violence between the Serbs and the Albanians began more than a month ago.

NATO last year launched an air war against Yugoslavia to force it to pull out its forces and end repression of the province's majority ethnic Albanians.

But since then tens of thousands of Serbs have left Kosovo, fleeing violence and intimidation which have continued despoite the efforts of NATO-led peacekeepers and the U.N. administration in the province. Many of those who remain are in Mitrovica.

Trajkovic and Serb Orthodox bishop Artemije, who represent the Serb minority in Kosovo but are opposed to the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, met Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov.

"In the nine-month presence of the international community, the Serb and other non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo have been deprived of basic human rights - the right to life, to move freely, to work, to speak their language," Artemije said.

He said 500 Serbs had been killed and 250,000 forced to flee, and that 10,000 Serb houses and 80 Serbian Orthodox churches had been destroyed.

"Under these conditions the Serb community will not go to polls and will not accept these elections. As long as there is no freedom for all, there cannot be free elections," he said.

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