Most Serbs to end Kosovo boycott, with reservations

GRACANICA, Apr 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) International efforts to foster cooperation between Kosovo's ethnic groups got a boost on Sunday with a decision by Serb leaders to end a six-month boycott of the province's main postwar institutions.

Members of Kosovo's Serb National Council, meeting at a 14th century monastery complex south of the capital city Pristina, agreed to send representatives to two multi-ethnic bodies set up by the United Nations administration in charge of the territory.

"We are ready to take our share of responsibility to participate in the political process," said Father Sava Janjic, an Orthodox priest who acts as the spokesman for the council.

The United Nations hailed the move, although it was hedged by several caveats. The representatives will only be observers and their participation will be reviewed after three months, by which time the Serbs want to see progress on issues of concern to them.

Another shadow over the decision was its rejection by leaders in the flashpoint city of Mitrovica, home to the largest remaining urban Serb population in Kosovo. They said they would take no part in the U.N.-sponsored bodies.

"We hoped that they would join us in our common efforts because we think that unity is very much important in these days of suffering," Janjic said.


Kosovo's Serbs have been the targets of widespread intimidation and attacks by revenge-seeking members of the ethnic Albanian majority since the United Nations and NATO took over responsibility for the province last June.

Serbs say more than 200,000 members of their community have fled Kosovo in fear of their lives - both during and after NATO's bombing campaign to end repression of Albanians by driving out Serb and Yugoslav security forces.

The Serbs quit the multi-ethnic bodies last September in protest at the violence and what they saw as an indulgent attitude towards Albanians by international authorities.

Bernard Kouchner, the former French cabinet minister running the UN administration, welcomed their decision to return.

"Now the real work can start on setting up the administration of Kosovo," he said. "This decision gives us a real possibility of building a united and tolerant society."

Janjic said the council was encouraged by statements from the United Nations and Western states about improving the conditions of Kosovo Serbs, many of whom are confined to enclaves heavily guarded by troops from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.


Serb leaders would need to see progress on issues such as security and the return of Serbs who have fled to stay in the multi-ethnic institutions longer than three months, he said.

"I am afraid, if there are absolutely no results after the three-month period, we would not be able to continue our participation within the interim administration," he said.

Under the decision, the Serbs will send Rada Trajkovic, a doctor and politician, as an observer to meetings of Kosovo's Interim Administrative Council, the highest-level body involving local people in the temporary administration.

The Serbs said they would also send three representatives to Kosovo's Transitional Council, a sort of mini-parliament set up by the U.N. to reflect the spectrum of Kosovo society, and leave another seat free for a representative from Mitrovica.

But Oliver Ivanovic, the Serb leader in the city which has been the scene of a string of violent clashes involving peacekeepers, Serbs and Albanians over the past few months, made clear he saw no reason to take part in the administration.

"That would be a catastrophic move at this moment," he said. "By joining this body, the Serb issue would be forgotten."

Original article