UN envoys start Kosovo trip after two see Milosevic
PRISTINA, Apr 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) Envoys of pro-Serbian Russia and China met Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before arriving in Kosovo on Thursday as part of a UN team that will visit the hotspot of Mitrovica.
Their talks in Belgrade with Milosevic, shunned internationally since being indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal over atrocities in Kosovo, reflected their countries' disapproval of the eight-member UN Security Council delegation's three-day mission.
Russia and China fiercely opposed NATO's 1999 air war against Serbian-led Yugoslavia that halted ethnic Albanian-Serb bloodshed in Kosovo and ushered in international control of the province.
Members of the delegation avoided reporters before starting a first round of meetings with Kosovo's United Nations administrator Bernard Kouchner and aides under tight security at UN mission headquarters in Pristina.
The team's observations will go into a key report recommending ways to improve UNMIK, Kosovo's interim post-war authority which has suffered from underfunding and a lack of police needed to curb endemic armed violence.
Russian and Chinese impressions will be crucial as both countries are permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council. The others are the United States, Britain and France, none of whom have envoys in the delegation.
During a fierce Serbian military campaign against Kosovo Albanian secessionist guerrillas in 1998-99, over half the majority population was driven from their homes. Belgrade withdrew its forces last June after 78 days of NATO air raids.
Most Kosovo Serbs fled in their wake as returning ethnic Albanians embarked on a spree of revenge that saw scores of murders, arson attacks and seizures of Serb homes. Most remaining Serbs live under KFOR peacekeepers' protection.
Serbs accuse UNMIK and NATO-led KFOR peace troops of failing to guarantee a safe and secure environment for all inhabitants as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution that launched the international protectorate in Kosovo.
Serbian official media said on Thursday that Russian envoy Sergei Lavrov and Chinese envoy Shen Guofeng agreed with Belgrade's view that respect for its territorial integrity and equality for all of Kosovo's communities were the basis for resolving problems in the turbulent province.
The Big Powers have left Kosovo's final status open. Ethnic Albanians insist on independence, ruled out by the West as a recipe for a Balkan-wide explosion.
Lavrov and Shen saw Yugoslav Deputy Nikola Sainovic, also a UN war crimes indictee, and Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic as well, the official news agency Tanjug said.
"Sainovic informed the two in detail on crime, genocide, and the flight of Serbs, Montenegrins and other non-Albanians from Kosovo in the presence of KFOR," Tanjug reported.
The Security Council delegation's most important stop in Kosovo will be Mitrovica, a divided city where hostile ethnic Albanians to the south and Serbs to the north of the Ibar River are kept apart by KFOR checkpoints and barbed wire.
Their talks with international and local leaders will cover topics including health, policing and reconstruction in a region characterized by disorder and poverty.
Bangladesh Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury heads the delegation. The other members, aside from Lavrov and Shen, are from current Council president Canada, Ukraine, Malaysia, Argentina and Jamaica.