23 January 2007

Kosovo Albanians attack UN; police fire teargas

Reuters, 28 Nov 2006 17:35:54 GMT By Matt Robinson (Adds quotes, background)

PRISTINA, Serbia, Nov 28 (Reuters) - U.N. police in Kosovo fired teargas on Tuesday to disperse ethnic Albanians who smashed the windows of parliament and stoned U.N. headquarters, angry at a delay to their demand for independence from Serbia.

Thousands of protesters converged on the main symbols of authority in the capital, Pristina, throwing red paint on the buildings of the U.N. mission and Kosovo's interim government.

They dispersed after U.N. police fired teargas from inside the U.N. compound, a fortified square on the site of a former Serb military headquarters.

It was the first sign of a violent backlash since Western powers and Russia this month decided to delay a U.N. decision on the Albanian majority's demand for independence until next year.

The United Nations, which has run Kosovo since NATO bombs drove out Serb
forces in 1999, on Monday reported "credible threats" to its personnel and property. It stepped up security but did not link the warning to Tuesday's demonstration.

Protest leader Albin Kurti, a former political prisoner in Serbia, promised more rallies in the capital.

"Pristina is the centre and source of all the bad things that are happening to Kosovo," he told the crowd.

Albanians greeted NATO and the United Nations as saviours when they wrested control of Kosovo from Serbia in 1999, ending a Serb counter-insurgency campaign that the West said was becoming a bloodbath. But the mood has soured over seven years of political limbo and economic stagnation.

The Kosovo government called for calm, and for people to "distance themselves from such acts". A U.N. spokesman refused to comment on the violence.


The West had promised a decision on Kosovo's final status this year, but opted to delay until after a general election in Serbia on Jan. 21, hoping to spare pro-Western parties the impact of a decision that may go against their country.

Diplomats say Kosovo ultimately is likely to win some form of independence, supervised by the European Union. But the timeframe and path to statehood remain unclear.

Kurti's followers say Kosovo should simply vote for its independence, rather than negotiate with Serbia.

Serb-Albanian talks began in February, but have produced little sign of compromise. U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari is expected to present his proposal on "final status" by February. But a new U.N. resolution could take months longer still.

U.N. veto holder and sometime Serb ally Russia insists the solution must satisfy Serbia, which says the amputation of Kosovo -- its religious cradle -- would violate international law.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999, when NATO intervened to halt atrocities by Serb forces in a two-year war with guerrillas. Some 10,000 Albanians died and 800,000 fled.

Around 100,000 Serbs remain, many in isolated enclaves watched over by a 17,000-strong NATO-led force of peacekeepers whose main task is now to prevent violence by Albanian extremists. (Additional reporting by Shaban Buza and Fatos Bytyci)