Despite doubts, Serbs vote to cooperate with UN

GRACANICA, Jun 26, 2000 -- (Reuters) Leaders of Kosovo's embattled Serbs threw in their lot with the United Nations on Sunday, deciding that cooperation not confrontation was the only way forward.

The Serbian National Council (SNC), representing the Serb minority in the province, voted to return to U.N.-led inter-ethnic institutions, saying it was the only way for Serbs to survive in what they regard as the cradle of their people.

"The results of the work of the UN mission (in Kosovo) so far cannot be called a success, at least concerning the Serb community, but...we cannot live on rhetoric and criticism, we have to give our own constructive contribution," said Father Sava Jancic, a Serbian Orthodox priest and SNC spokesman.

Eighty-three SNC delegates met at the Orthodox monastery in this Serb-held town southeast of the Kosovo capital Pristina, and with only four dissenting voices agreed to rejoin the bodies it walked out of 15 days ago in protest at the level of violence in the province against the Serbian minority.

And in a move towards moderation, contrasting with violent statements in Belgrade, the SNC indicated that it was looking for support from the United States, which little more than a year ago led NATO bombing raids directed at the Serbs.

Father Sava told reporters after the four-hour-long SNC conclave that a visit last week by James O'Brien, special representative of President Bill Clinton and the U.S. State Department, had been instrumental in drawing the Serbs back into the talks.


Father Sava said UNMIK, the UN interim mission in Kosovo, had agreed to devise a new program aimed at improving the lot of the Serbs.

"The very fact that one of the important goals of Mr. O'Brien's visit to Kosovo was working with the Serb community on implementation of this program and the interest which has been shown by the Secretary of State in Washington gives us assurance that there is will in the U.S. administration to improve the security situation which, according to their own assessment, is very bad" he said.

Until the NATO campaign forced the Yugoslav army to withdraw, the 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority in Serbia's southern province were ruled by Belgrade with a heavy hand.

Since the bombing ended, more than half the Serb minority have fled to Serbia proper, and those who remain live in heavily guarded areas patrolled by troops of the NATO-led KFOR (Kosovo Force).

Roads into Gracanica are guarded by Swedish checkpoints, and as the SNC delegates talked, the ancient monastery was ringed by soldiers and armored vehicles, many of them British, American and Polish, which had escorted them to the meeting.

Their protection is needed: attacks on Serbs have continued since the SNC boycott began on June 10, but Father Sava said: "That makes more urgent more active participation of the SNC with the international community to prevent these attacks."

He said the understanding between UNMIK and the SNC would take the form of a written commitment to improving the position of the Serb population in Kosovo.

This would include:

Deployment of additional UNMIK police forces in Serb areas.

More Serb candidates in the Kosovo police force.

More international judges to be employed in Kosovo.

Continuation of work on the return of Serbs within the Committee for the Returns headed by Serbian Bishop Artemije and UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner and others.

Opening of local community offices in Serb areas where local Serbs together with UNMIK local officials would work on the "burning issues of the Serbian community".

A special committee for protection of Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries.

Original article