Kosovo Serb Divisions Intensify

The Serb National Council decision to rejoin Kosovo's joint institutions has deepened divisions among the minority's leaders.

Kosovo Serb Divisions Intensify

The Serb National Council decision to rejoin Kosovo's joint institutions has deepened divisions among the minority's leaders.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The Serb National Council, SNC, voted by a large majority this week to re-enter Kosovo's United Nations led inter-ethnic institutions, heightening divisions between the community's moderate and hard-line leaders.

The council withdrew from the joint institutions two weeks ago in protest at the escalating violence against the Serbian community.

Serbian Orthodox priest and SNC spokesman, Father Sava Jancic, said the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK had not served the Serbian community well, but conceded, "we cannot live on rhetoric and criticism, we have to make a constructive contribution."

The move is likely to widen the rift between the Serbian community's moderate leaders based around Bishop Artemije and the more Belgrade-orientated leaders in Mitrovice and central Kosovo.

The central Kosovo executive board of the SNC expelled Rada Trajkovic, Randjel Nojkic, and Dusan Ristic for supporting the council's decision, while president of the SNC board, Dragan Velic, was replaced. A meeting has been called to vote on withdrawing from the body.

Leader of the Mitrovice SNC, Marko Jancic, said Artemije, together with UNMIK chief, Bernard Kouchner, and local Albanian leaders, were "destroying the Serb state." Members of the local board are said to be preparing to vote on whether Artemije should continue to represent the interests of the Kosovo Serbs.

Senior SNC member, Momcilo Trajkovic, who opposed the council's decision, has sought to diffuse the mounting row by proposing a roundtable to bring together representatives of the Kosovo Serbs, the united opposition in Serbia and the Belgrade authorities. "The break-up of the Kosovo SNC is in no one's interest," he said.

The international community, meanwhile, welcomed the SNC decision. Kouchner said, "This courageous action will allow the Kosovo Serb representatives to once again play their rightful role in building a peaceful, democratic and tolerant Kosovo."

Considerable international pressure had been brought to bear on the Serbian community representatives to re-enter the joint institutions. Serb leaders were invited to a meeting with the UN Security Council - a move which infuriated leaders from the ethnic Albanian community who received no such invitation.

Special representative of US President Bill Clinton, James O'Brien, visited Kosovo last week and is believed to have been instrumental in drawing the SNC back into the administration.

The success, however, has been only partial. The Serbian representatives have agreed to participate for three months, but only as observers. Kosovo's Albanian leaders have criticised the limited scale of Serb involvement as insincere and have urged them to participate fully in the joint institutions.

UNMIK and the SNC, meanwhile, signed an agreement on June 29, which establishes a special security task force, combining members of UNMIK police and KFOR, to protect the Serbian community. Bishop Artemije, who has been working on the agreement since January, said it would "improve the situation in Kosovo."

Other provisions in the agreement include measures to boost the numbers of Serbs in the Kosovo police force, the appointment of an international prosecutor and two international judges to all district courts, the speeding up of proceedings against those accused of ethnically related crimes, and the creation of a special court to try cases of ethnic crime.

The document agrees to give equal priority to Albanian prisoners in Serbian jails and kidnapped Serbs. A joint committee is to focus on this issue as well as the problem of securing the return of Serbian refugees to the province.

Over 100,000 Kosovo Serbs - virtually half of the province's pre-war Serbian population - fled their homes following the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces and the subsequent escalation in Albanian extremist violence.

Those Serbs who remain in the province now live in heavily guarded communities, patrolled day and night by KFOR troops. Yet incidents of ethnic violence are reported every day. The security situation in the province is still clearly far from ideal.

So polarised is Kosovo that Bishop Artemije and his moderate coleagues could find it very difficult to make a success of their decision to participate once again in the joint administration.

The persistent and often violent anti-Serb feeling within the Albanian community, UNMIK's continued problems in imposing law and order and Belgrade's lingering influence over the Serbian community's more radical leaders, particularly in northern Mitrovice, do not bode well for the future.

Artemije's colleague, Father Sava, said of pro-Belgrade Kosovo Serbs, "We shall remain alone at the monastery if the support for Milosevic and his policy continues and we do not find another alternative".

Llazar Semini is IWPR's Kosova Project Manager in Pristina.

Serbia, Kosovo
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