- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Kosovo’s Serb minority will “resist as any occupied people would do” if a U.N. mediator’s plan to give the province de facto independence from Serbia is approved, Bishop Artemije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, warned yesterday.

The plan, made public by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari earlier this month, is “unacceptable” to both the Serbian population inside Kosovo and to the Serbian government in Belgrade, and would only embolden Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority to continue targeting Bishop Artemije’s community, he said in an interview during a Washington visit.

“If this plan happens, it will only give the Albanian terrorists a chance to finish the ethnic cleansing job against Serbs in Kosovo that has been going on for the past seven years,” Bishop Artemije said, speaking through an interpreter. “Serbia will react as any democratic country would do to the loss of its territory, and Serbs in Kosovo will react as any occupied people would do.”

The United States and European Union have backed the Ahtisaari plan, which would give Kosovo all the trappings of statehood — including a flag, national anthem, constitution and standing army — under international monitoring, while avoiding any direct mention of independence.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a House hearing this week that the United States would press Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians — who make up at least 90 percent of the province’s 2 million people — to honor minority rights and promises of political autonomy for Kosovar Serbs contained in the U.N. blueprint.

“We are having equally difficult and tough discussions with the Kosovar Albanians about their responsibilities,” she said.

But the bishop’s sharp words show the hurdles facing the international community in finding a compromise between the demands of Serbs and Kosovar Albanians.

Serbian leaders in Belgrade have unanimously rejected the U.N. plan but have asked for a delay in responding as they try to form a government in the wake of inconclusive parliamentary elections Jan. 21.

Mr. Ahtisaari, briefing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday in New York, said he still expected to conclude talks and present his final recommendations to the Security Council by the end of March. He meets with Serbian and Kosovar leaders early next week in Vienna, Austria, for one more round of talks.

The U.N. special envoy also said yesterday that he would consider “constructive amendments” to his plan for the future of Kosovo during final talks with rival Serbs and Kosovar Albanians before the proposal goes to the U.N. Security Council for approval.

Kosovo has been in U.N.-administered limbo since a 1999 NATO air war drove troops of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from the province. A Serbian campaign against Kosovar separatist groups killed about 10,000 people and sparked a major refugee crisis, leading to the NATO bombardment.

Some hard-line Kosovar Albanian leaders also have expressed unhappiness with the Ahtisaari blueprint, saying it stops short of their goals and could lead to a partition of the province with Belgrade ruling the Serb-dominated north.

The United States and the European Union have pushed a settlement for fear that frustrated Kosovar Albanians could turn to violence if the negotiations are prolonged. But Serbia has a traditional ally in Russia, which has said it would not support a settlement in Kosovo opposed by Belgrade.

Bishop Artemije said yesterday that the protections for Kosovo’s Serbs in the Ahtisaari plan would never be enough to entice Belgrade to give up its claim to what many Serbs see as their religious and cultural homeland.

“There are no guarantees that could make us renounce our own land,” he said. “This plan will not produce stability in the region, only more instability.”

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