10 July 2007

Kosovo extremists won't be tolerated, says NATO chief

Agence France Presse, 15 février 2007 18:36


PRISTINA, Serbia, Feb 15, 2007 (AFP)


== ATTENTION -Serbian PM quotes, details ///


NATO will come down hard on any extremists who try to spark violence in Kosovo, its chief warned on a visit to the breakaway Serbian province Thursday, just days after a deadly protest.


NATO's 17,000 KFOR troops "will not tolerate those who think violence is an option," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after meeting ethnic Albanian leaders in the Kosovo capital Pristina.


"This is an important part of Europe and the last thing we want is violence in the region," the NATO Secretary General said before flying to the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica.


Tensions have mounted in Kosovo since UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari unveiled a plan early this month for the province to be granted limited sovereignty.


Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority sees the proposal as another step toward full independence, but Belgrade and Kosovo's Serb minority insists on Serbia's territorial integrity.


In Kosovska Mitrovica, a tense northern town with the largest concentration of Serbs in Kosovo, Serb leaders have threatened to break away from the province if ethnic Albanians win independence.


Scheffer warned, however, that "there will be no partition" of the province, adding that KFOR would remain at "full strength" during this delicate phase.


He later met with the mayors of three northern Serb municipalities, but no details of their talks were revealed.


Scheffer's visit comes after two ethnic Albanians died from injuries suffered when police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of some 2,000 protestors during a demonstration Saturday in Pristina.


The demonstration -- organised by the "Self-determination" youth movement -- turned violent after the ethnic Albanian protestors broke through a strong police cordon protecting Pristina's parliament building.


"Self-determination" is seeking Kosovo's immediate independence without any negotiations involving Serbia.


Accepting the blame, Kosovo's interior minister Fatmir Rexhepi and the head of the international police mission in the province, Stephen Curtis, have resigned.


Various reports said that ethnic Albanian extremists from neighbouring Macedonia have taken part in the protest, including former guerrillas fighting against Belgrade troops during 1998-1999 Kosovo war.


Kosovo has been run by a UN mission since mid-1999, when a three-month NATO air war helped to drive out Serb forces and end their brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatist guerillas and their civilian supporters.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has since had thousands of troops stationed across the province.


In March 2004, the NATO-led mission in Kosovo was sharply criticised for failing to stop several days of riots in which 19 people were killed and some 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes.


After leading failed talks last year between Belgrade and Pristina, Ahtisaari drafted a settlement proposal offering Kosovo self-governance, a constitution, anthem, flag and the right to join international bodies.


Serbia's parliament unanimously condemned the plan on Wednesday as a violation of the country's territorial integrity.


And outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a fierce opponent of Kosovo's independence, said such a move would be a "violence against a democratic European nation" and a "dangerous precedent."


"Serbia warns that, no matter what, it will not be an accomplice to such violence," Kostunica said at the ceremony marking Serbia's national holiday.


"Whoever dares seize Serbia's territory ... it will take a full responsibility for such violence," Kostunica warned.