Southern Serbia has been rocked by recent violence between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Earlier this week, a top Serb government official proposed a plan aimed at defusing the situation by giving ethnic Albanians a greater political role in the republic. The United States says the initiative could serve as a basis for starting a peace process. RFE/RL correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.
Washington, 2 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has welcomed a Serb initiative aimed at finding a political solution in southern Serbia and improving the lives of ethnic Albanians.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement to reporters on Thursday that the plan, outlined earlier this week by a senior Serbian official, provides a basis to defuse the situation in the strife-ridden region.
"Serbian Deputy Prime Minister (Nebojsa) Covic has made a statement about a plan that the Serbian government has to achieve a peaceful political solution to the situation in southern Serbia. This is something that we welcome."
Covic's plan calls for the integration of ethnic Albanians into Serbia's social and political life, as well as respect of their rights. It also calls for faster economic development of the region.
Covic urged ethnic Albanian leaders to move "gradually but reasonably quickly" to take a much greater part in Serb political life.
"Together with our allies and other concerned parties, we'll carefully review the plan. We do believe that this initiative provides a basis for starting a peaceful process to end the conflict."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to confer 2 February with visiting Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djinjic.
Commenting in Presevo, southern Serbia, the site of recent unrest between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, Covic said: "You don't fight terrorism by bombing a house with heavy artillery. That kind of thing doesn't achieve anything."
State Department spokesman Boucher also delivered a call for restraint in Mitrovica, the second largest city in the Serb province of Kosovo which is being administered by the United Nations and policed by NATO-led peacekeeping troops.
"We call for calm among all parties in Kosovska Mitrovica. (With) the current violence by militant demonstrators against NATO peacekeepers, there is no way to solve the grievances. We call on the demonstrators to cease immediately their confrontation with NATO peacekeepers, and we urge them to address their issues peacefully."
Boucher said Powell would raise the issue of violence in Mitrovica as well as overall U.S. policy and goals in a meeting at the State Department on 2 February with three ethnic Albanian Kosovar leaders.
Powell is scheduled to see Ibrahim Rugova, the president of the Democratic League of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, the head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), and publisher Veton Surroi.
Earlier Thursday, a group of ethnic Albanians hurled rocks at French soldiers guarding a building in Mitrovica. On 30-31 January 26 soldiers and seven Kosovo Albanians were injured in rioting.