- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Nine years after NATO began bombing Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown in Kosovo, Belgrade has proposed partitioning the newly independent nation along ethnic lines.

The proposal to divide Kosovo between its ethnic Albanian majority and minority Serbs was published in Belgrade newspapers today, the anniversary of NATO’s 78-day air war to end a bloody 1999 Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

The document submitted to U.N. headquarters says the Serbian government recognizes U.N. jurisdiction in Kosovo — but says only Serbs, not Kosovo Albanians, can control the police, judiciary and border customs services in parts of Kosovo where Serbs comprise the majority.

Kosovo, where 90 percent of the 2 million residents are ethnic Albanian, declared independence from Serbia last month. Serbia, which considers Kosovo the historic cradle of its nation, denounced the declaration as invalid under international law.

“The Serb police officers are answering to the local Serb authorities and work under the command” of the U.N. police in Kosovo, Belgrade’s document says. Until last month, the U.N. police force was comprised of both Serb and ethnic Albanian officers.

Analysts say Belgrade is trying to take political and administrative control of the mostly northern parts of Kosovo where Serbs represent a majority.

Earlier this month, Kosovo’s Serbs clashed with U.N. and NATO troops in the northern, Serb-held town of Mitrovica, leaving a U.N. policeman dead and dozens injured. The U.N. accused Belgrade of orchestrating the violence with the goal of trying to maintain control over Serb-populated areas of Kosovo.

Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said Belgrade is proposing a “functional division” between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

The deputy chief of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, Larry Rossin, confirmed the document was sent to U.N. headquarters for evaluation.

A senior Kosovo Albanian official rejected the proposal today.

“We do not discuss such proposals that regrettably represent an entire government,” Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuqi told The Associated Press. “They are reminiscent of the old way of thinking.”

Today, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and other Serbian officials marked the anniversary of the NATO bombings by attending a church service commemorating Serbs who died in the air strikes.

“Now it is more than clear that the merciless destruction of Serbia in the NATO bombing had only one goal, and that is to turn Kosovo into the first NATO state in the world,” Kostunica said in a statement.

In Pristina, Kosovo, President Fatmir Sejdiu thanked the alliance for the bombing that “stopped the aggression of Serbia’s military and paramilitaries against the people of Kosovo.”

“We express our deepest gratitude and thanks to the U.S., EU … for helping Kosovo when our people were threatened by extinction,” Sejdiu said in his message.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin ordered the government today to send humanitarian aid to Serb-populated areas of Kosovo, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia backs Serbia’s opposition to Kosovo independence. But Putin stressed that the gesture should not bear political overtones, state-run RIA-Novosti said.

Associated Press writer Nebi Qena contributed to this report from Pristina, Kosovo.

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