08 September 2006

Albanians Frustrate Negotiations

Two-day round of talks on religious and cultural heritage ends
Belgrade/Vienna, Sept 8, 2006 – Belgrade and Pristina negotiating teams ended the two-day round of talks that mainly focused on jurisdictions of future Serb municipalities in Kosovo, the number of protected zones of religious and cultural monuments, supervision of the agreement on the return of historically important items, human rights issues and rights of ethnic communities.
Serbian President’s Advisor Aleksandar Simic told a press conference he was surprised with the rigid position of Kosovo Albanians on issues where agreement was so close as well as with rejection of Serbian proposal with no valid argument. He said that the talks could have failed as Kosovo Albanians presented their document with a subtitle “Overall Vision of Rights of Communities in the Independent State of Kosovo”. Therefore, the Serbian team symbolically handed over the Albanian delegation the valid Serbian Constitution, he said. President of the Coordinating Centre for Kosovo-Metohija Sanda Raskovic-Ivic said that the main problem in the talks between Belgrade and Pristina occurred because the Kosovo Albanians did not allow for enhanced and additional jurisdictions to be given to municipalities with a majority Serb population. Raskovic-Ivic said that from the very beginning of talks on decentralisation it was clear that the idea of broadened powers in the fields of education, health, social security, culture, cultural heritage and church issues referred only to Serbian majority municipalities. Now the ethnic Albanian delegation tried to completely relativise that principle with the position that all municipalities in Kosovo-Metohija should enjoy those special rights. That would annul our idea of special protection of the Serbian community in Kosovo, through the concept of decentralisation. We turned down that proposal of the ethnic Albanian delegation and now we have to continue the talks on this issue, Raskovic-Ivic said. As for the relations between Serbian municipalities and Belgrade, the ethnic Albanian side tried to reject any form of cooperation of Serbian municipalities with institutions and agencies of the Serbian government, Raskovic-Ivic said. They have reduced the cooperation between Serbian municipalities and Serbia to cooperation with non-governmental organisations, more or less. In that respect, we have to point to the very fair reaction of the mediators who warned the ethnic Albanian side that they are returning the talks to the very beginning, the head of the Coordinating Centre said. This time, talks on decentralisation have been much more objective and less biased than before, she said. We see that as a positive step forward and a chance to reach a solution that will secure conditions for a decent life of Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija, Raskovic-Ivic concluded. When it comes to the protection of cultural and religious heritage, Belgrade proposed the formation of 39 protection zones around churches and monasteries, Raskovic-Ivic said, adding that the Serbian side has already made a concession by reducing the size of protection zones from 6,500 to 5,500 hectares. In addition, the formation of a commission that would deal with the implementation of the agreement on protection zones and its supervision was also discussed at the meeting.