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INTERVIEW-Kosovo warns Serbia seeking partition of north

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 4 Aug 2011 19:14 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Pristina accuses Serbia of wanting to partition Kosovo

* 11 pct of the territory is not under Pristina's control

* Belgrade said it will not give up Kosovo for EU bid

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Kosovo's foreign minister on Thursday accused Serbia of seeking to exploit the increased tensions around a dispute in its ethnic Serb-dominated north to pursue its long-held dream of partitioning the region.

"The danger is very real and it may happen," Kosovo's Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj told Reuters.

"This depends above all how the powerful world countries will react to the situation on the north, it will depend how NATO countries will support the presence and the job of KFOR in this part of the territory and it depends on how much the international diplomacy will pressure Belgrade," he added.

"If there is no pressure, the reality is that the partition of Kosovo will happen."

The trouble started when Kosovo, which broke away from Belgrade in 2008, sent ethnic Albanian special police units to border posts that had been staffed mostly by ethnic Serbs to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia.

Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo responded by blocking two main roads and have prevented NATO troops from reaching other peacekeepers at two border posts. Serb nationalists set fire to one border station last week and an ethnic Albanian policeman was shot dead.

Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory and vows it will never recognise its independence.

But since Serbia removed a major obstacle on its path to eventual European Union membership in May by arresting wanted war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, its leaders have more openly floated the possible idea of discussing a peaceful partition of Kosovo's north.

Under this scenario, Serbia would take 1,200 sq km -- 11 percent of the Kosovo's territory -- in return for normalising relations with Pristina.

Around 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, half of them in the northern part of Kosovo. Most ethnic Serbs in the north see Belgrade as their capital, with some vowing never to allow ethnic Albanians to rule over their region.

"The core of the problem is that Serbia wants to partition Kosovo and take the north," Hoxhaj said. "Partition will open a Pandora's box where insecurity, instability and violence could spread within the region on an unimaginable scale."

Anxious to win EU candidate status in October, Belgrade has responded moderately in recent days, calling for dialogue and ruling out violence as a solution.

Yet on Thursday Serbia's Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said Belgrade will not compromise on some issues related to Kosovo just to gain EU membership.

"Many tie the latest events in the Serbian southern province with forthcoming negotiations with the EU and additional pressures on Serbia but our stance is clear: there is a red line of state interests below which Serbia will certainly not go," he told reporters.

International officials oppose any partition along ethnic lines because it could fuel other ethnic separatist aspirations, especially in Bosnia's Serb Republic which seeks more autonomy from the mostly Bosniak Muslim and Croat half of the country.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999, when NATO waged a 78-day bombing campaign to end Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing and crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels. (Additional reporting by Gordana Katana in Banja Luka, and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Adam Tanner)

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