30 March 2006

Serbia blasts nomination of ex-rebel leader for post of Kosovo premier

APMar 02, 2006 1:49 PM


BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro-Serbia slammed the nomination on Thursday of a former rebel commander as Kosovo's next prime minister, accusing him of war crimes and calling on the U.N. authorities running Kosovo to prevent his appointment.


Government spokesman Srdjan Djuric told the Associated Press that the nomination of Agim Ceku, the ex-commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army which fought Serb troops during 1998-99 war, was "entirely unacceptable."


Serb officials have accused Ceku of committing war crimes for his part in the Kosovo war and in Croatia's 1991-1995 war against the Serbs, in which he served on the Croatian side, and have issued an arrest warrant. He denies any wrongdoing.


Ceku "should be put on trial for war crimes ... and not elected to a political post," Djuric said. He urged Kosovo's U.N. authorities to prevent Ceku's formal election.


Tomislav Nikolic, an increasingly popular ultranationalist leader whose Serbian Radical Party is slated to win a next election here, agreed. He urged Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica not to negotiate with Ceku.


"I would back them if they negotiated with Albanian soldiers and politicians, but not criminals," Nikolic said. "Ceku ... is a war criminal."


Ceku was nominated a day after the resignation of the province's former premier, Bajram Kosumi.


Ethnic Albanians and Serbs are currently holding talks on the future of Kosovo, a U.N. protectorate since the end of the war, although still officially part of Serbia. The ethnic Albanian majority wants full independence, while the Serb minority and Belgrade insist Serbia retains some control.


Some Belgrade leaders saw Ceku's appointment as a sign the ethnic Albanians were assuming hard-line positions in the talks.


Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, who heads the Serbian government body dealing with Kosovo, said the nomination was "a radicalization, and every form of radicalization is a threat."


Tadic said "Serbia does not choose the prime minister of Kosovo. But, I am not sure it is a good idea to appoint generals or former warriors to civilian posts." He expressed hope that Ceku's election "will not destabilize the region or jeopardize the Serb community in Kosovo."


A Kosovo Serb on the negotiating team, Bogdan Bogdanovic, also called described the nomination as a "provocation."


"It shows that the ethnic Albanians have turned away from a possible compromise and toward a radical stand in the Kosovo talks," he said.