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UN: Serbian Official Calls For More Vigorous Response To Attacks

United Nations, 19 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic has called on international forces in Kosovo to mount a more vigorous response to ethnically motivated attacks.

In an address to the UN Security Council yesterday, Covic sharply criticized the role of international security forces in Kosovo since the withdrawal of forces by Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in 1999.

Covic cited a recent series of killings of Serbs in the province, the latest last week when unknown gunmen fired on Serbian teenagers swimming near a Serbian enclave, killing two of them. Another Serbian man shot early last week while fishing near a Serbian enclave in Kosovo died yesterday of his injuries in a Belgrade hospital.

Covic said UN and NATO-led forces (KFOR) in Kosovo must be more efficient in investigating the attacks, most of which have been unsolved. He said international forces had become helpless in dealing with terrorism by ethnic Albanian forces.

"It is high time the international community looked back and evaluated the results. It's necessary to recognize, without any prejudice and fear, that actions of Albanian extremist and terrorist groups represented the main threat to the stabilization of Kosovo and Metohija, and the region as a whole," Covic said.

Covic recommended a series of steps, including full disarmament in Kosovo, a witness-protection program for those willing to testify in criminal cases, and closer cooperation between security forces in Kosovo and those in rest of region.

Covic also called for a complete investigation into the Kosovo Protection Corps, leading to its abolishment. The 3,000-member corps, a civil emergency force, is already under scrutiny by UN and KFOR officials after one of its members was linked to the bombing of a railway bridge in Zvecan in April.

Security Council members deplored the latest series of apparently ethnically motivated attacks on Serbs. Many representatives said it was important for leaders in Pristina and Belgrade to redouble their efforts to cooperate in building a multiethnic Kosovo.

Britain's ambassador to the UN, Emyr Jones Parry, was one of the few to respond directly to Covic's criticisms. He rejected Covic's charges of inaction by the international community.

Jones Parry said the recent violence in the province must still be considered as isolated acts of extremism and must not be allowed to polarize Kosovo society any further. "Those in responsible positions have a responsibility to ensure that their rhetoric actually matches the gravity of the situation," he said.

Many council members repeated their support for the UN mission's reform process, which holds that the province's final status cannot be discussed until key democratic standards are met.

Germany's deputy UN ambassador, Wolfgang Trautwein, pressed Albanian and Serbian leaders to move forward with pledges to hold direct talks on technical issues. "The present security situation, as well as the current internal debate about the new Serbian constitution, should not be taken as a pretext by Kosovar politicians to escape from their responsibility for a peaceful and stable Kosovo. We urge them to concentrate on the next steps," he said.

The draft Serbian constitution refers to Kosovo as part of Serbia. Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi has called the reference to Kosovo in the draft constitution a provocation. Covic has said that Rexhepi's remarks prove that some Kosovar politicians do not want a dialogue with Serbia and are looking for ways to avoid one.