UN seeks to reassure Kosovo Albanians on Serb deal

PRISTINA, Jul 4, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United Nations sought on Monday to reassure Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians that it had not granted Serbs self-government within the province nor their own parallel security force.

The UN moved to calm tempers after Albanian politicians and commentators expressed anger at a deal between the province's UN administrator and Serb leaders agreed last week.

"The understanding with the Serbs is the exact opposite of cantonisation or partition," Nadia Younes, a spokeswoman for Kosovo's U.N.-led administration, told a news briefing.

Kosovo Albanian newspapers have been full of adverse comment on the agreement over the past few days. Some have suggested at least one ethnic Albanian political party could pull out of U.N.-backed institutions in Kosovo in protest.

Since international authorities took over responsibility for the Yugoslav province in June last year, ethnic Albanians have carried out numerous attacks on Kosovo Serbs. Albanians suffered years of repression under the Serbian state.

Last week's deal promised the Serbs, most of whom now live in enclaves heavily guarded by soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, better security and access to services.

It included plans to set up a "neighborhood watch" scheme, a task force to look at improving their security, and special local administration offices in Serb areas.

While Serb leaders expressed satisfaction at the deal and pledged to work with the UN, the agreement alarmed Albanians who viewed it as an attempt by the Serbs to run their affairs and security independent of the majority of the population.

The UN, however, defended the accord and insisted it bound the Serbs more closely to the administration.

"The understanding that was signed last week is a reaction to the reality on the ground," Younes said. "On the ground, there is no security and no freedom of movement for the Serbs and other communities in Kosovo."

Ethnic Albanian leaders were particularly alarmed by the mention of a neighborhood watch scheme, which revived memories of Serb civilians who armed themselves in the 1980s saying they had to protect their property and people.

Younes said neighborhood watch groups would be unarmed and exist only to assist KFOR and the police. She said it was not a foregone conclusion that other Kosovo political parties would reject last Thursday's agreement out of hand.

In a move widely seen as a protest, the Democratic Party of Kosovo - made up largely of ex-guerrillas who fought Serb rule - stayed away from a UN-backed council meeting on Friday.

The party, led by former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaqi, had no immediate reaction to Monday's clarifications by the UN.

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