Kosovo Serb leaders blame Milosevic, Albanians

BELGRADE, Jul 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Kosovo's usually divided Serb leaders united on Tuesday to blame Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and "Albanian extremists" for the plight of Serbs in the province.

They agreed in talks with the Serbian opposition to refrain from further internal conflicts and observe a verbal truce, according to a statement issued after a meeting in Belgrade.

"The biggest responsibility and the gravest blame for the current tragic status of the Serbs and other ethnic groups in Kosovo lie with Slobodan Milosevic, his regime and Albanian extremists," the statement said.

Fearing retribution by Kosovo Albanians for past Serb persecution, more than 150,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians have fled Kosovo for Serbia proper since June 1999, when NATO-led troops and the United Nations took control of the province.

Others went to Montenegro, Serbia's smaller partner republic in the Yugoslav federation.

About 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, many living in enclaves guarded by the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

Those attending Tuesday's meeting in Belgrade included Oliver Ivanovic, leader of the Serb enclave in the strifetorn northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica and previously seen as loyal to Belgrade.

Kosovo's Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije, chairman of what the West sees as the more moderate Serb National Council (SNC) based in the Kosovo village of Gracanica, was also present.

"As a part of the democratic opposition in Serbia, all present representatives of the Kosovo Serbs agreed to avoid internal clashes and verbal attacks in future," said the statement.

Artemije told a news conference that the two groups had the same goal - to preserve the Serb community in Kosovo and to enable those who fled to return - but that they differed in how to achieve that.

Unlike Ivanovic's group, the Gracanica-based Serb leaders have cut off all links with Milosevic and opted for cooperation with Kosovo's UN administration.

Ivanovic said before the meeting that he had accepted a proposal by another Kosovo Serb leader, Momcilo Trajkovic, to hold round table talks on a joint strategy for representing the interests of Serbs in Kosovo.

Trajkovic, leader of the Serbian Resistance Movement in Kosovo, is a political opponent of Milosevic.

Local analysts say the move by Kosovo Serbs to try to bury the hatchet could be a blow to Milosevic, indicted by a UN court for alleged war crimes committed by his forces in Kosovo.

They say Milosevic is widely believed to have provided financial and political support to Serbs in Mitrovica in a bid to maintain influence in the province despite its de facto international rule.

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