09 July 2007

Kosovo: Government condemns deadly weekend violence


Pristina, 12 Feb. (AKI) - The Kosovan government has condemned the violent demonstrations by militant ethnic Albanians in which two people lost their lives on Saturday. "Violence is most harmful to Kosovo," the government said in a statement after an emergency session Sunday night. Kosovo's prime minister Agim Ceku, who visited the families of the victims on Sunday, said the violence was detrimental to majority ethnic Albanians' drive for independence.

"The political, institutional and diplomatic process is the only sure way to realise aspirations for the formation of a Kosovo state," said Ceku. Ceku was due on a visit to China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council on Monday to lobby for independence for the breakaway province, but has postponed the trip after the flareup of violence.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians, led by the militant group Vetevendosje (Self-determination), protested in the centre of Pristina on Saturday against top United Nations envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari's recently unveiled plan complaining that it doesn't provide full independence for the province. Vetevendosje also claims the plan grants too much autonomy for the Serbian municipalities in Kosovo which it guarantees special ties with Belgrade.

Kosovo has been under UN control since 1999 when NATO airstrikes drove out Serb troops amid ethnic fighting and gross human rights abuses.

At one point the demonstrators tried to storm Kosovo parliament and government buildings and police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Up to 80 people were wounded in the clashes and two later died for their injuries. Sixteen people, including Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti were arrested.

Vetevendosje wants Kosovo's parliament to declare independence immediately, instead of continuing negotiations with Belgrade, which opposes independence.

Ahtisaari's plan has been condemned by Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs who claim it in effect grants independence to the province in which ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs by 17 to one. The proposal allows Kosovo access to international bodies normally reserved for sovereign states, and allows it to raise its own flag, with its own national anthem.

Ahtisaari has however called for another round of talks in Vienna on 21 February to enable the two sides to give "constructive" feedback on the blueprint but has signalled he still intends to submit the final document to the UN Security Council by end-March for approval in April.

Eight rounds of talks last year did little to bring the two opposing sides closer.

The six nation Contact group - United States, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, France and Russia - which is to approve Ahtisaari's plan before it goes for approval to the UN Security Council, condemned Saturdays' riots.

"There is no room for violence as a means of achieving political goals. Those who opt for violence and provocations are only hurting their own cause," the group said in statement.