February 29, 2008 / 8:05 PM / 10 years ago

Serbia trying to split Kosovo communities-EU envoy

By Matt Robinson

PRISTINA, Feb 29 (Reuters) - The European Union’s Kosovo envoy accused Serbia on Friday of trying to sever ties between the new country’s Albanian majority and minority Serbs, a move he said bordered on partition.

"There is an attempt to sever the links between the Serb community and the central government," Pieter Feith, the new International Civilian Representative in Kosovo, told a joint news conference with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Asked if Serbia was trying to partition its former province, Feith said: "I think it’s coming very close to it."

Backed by Russia, Serbia has rejected the Kosovo Albanian declaration of independence on Feb 17, and is instructing the territory’s 120,000 remaining Serbs to do the same.

Kosovo Serb police are refusing to take orders from the Albanian-dominated central command, border posts in the Serb-dominated north have been attacked and Serbs are bidding to take control of the main U.N. court in the north by preventing its Albanian staff from working.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said this week Serbia would rule parts of Kosovo where "loyal citizens" continue to look to Belgrade for government.

Belgrade lost formal control over its then southern province in 1999, when NATO bombed to drive out Serb forces and halt the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a two-year Serb war against separatist guerrillas.

Feith, the EU’s top envoy to Kosovo, also represents an international steering group established on Thursday to monitor Kosovo’s first years as an independent state, so far recognised by the United States and major EU powers but not Russia.

The EU’s policing and supervisory mission to Kosovo, not yet deployed, already faces a challenge in imposing its authority in Serb areas, notably the Serb-dominated north where the mission has been branded an "occupation". EU advance staff have been withdrawn from the Serb stronghold of north Mitrovica.

Dutch diplomat Feith said the steering group, which comprises 15 countries that have recognised Kosovo, had given him a "very strong message ... that the Group will not tolerate partition, because partition of this country is not foreseen and will not be accepted by us."

Feith stressed that a Western-backed plan drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, and blocked by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, provided for "privileged linkages" between Kosovo Serbs and Serbia.

Kosovo PM Thaci says the Serb minority will enjoy stronger guarantees than many EU countries offer, and has pledged repeatedly to uphold the deal. But Serbia scoffs at the promises, saying Serbs will be threatened and repressed.

"The functioning of parallel institutions will not be tolerated," Thaci said, adding that Kosovo "cannot be partitioned." (Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Jon Boyle)

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