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Hard-Line Parties Gain Control Of Parallel Serbian Structures In Kosovo

PRISTINA -- The leaders of hard-line ethnic Serbian parties have vowed to strengthen parallel Serbian institutions in northern Kosovo after assuming control of local structures in the region, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

The Serbian Progressive Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia, which are known for their nationalist positions, came to power on October 21 after a coalition of more moderate parties lost the support of two key members of a council in Mitrovica that controls local institutions that operate in defiance of Kosovar government structures.

"We will strengthen Serbia's institutions and laws here [in Kosovo]," said Kerstomic Pantic, the newly elected head of ethnic-Serbian structures in northern Kosovo. "The citizens of Mitrovica should feel that the Republic of Serbia is their country and should not be beggars in their own state."

The parallel institutions have been declared illegal by the government in Pristina and international entities in Kosovo. But most ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo refuse to cooperate with Pristina and do not participate in a decentralization process as required by the international community.

The latest boost to Serb nationalist forces north of the Ibar River -- where Serbs have a majority -- does not come as a surprise to Ylber Hysa, the coordinator for implementing the strategy for northern Kosovo that was designed by the Kosovar government and which is supported by the international community.

"There is nothing new for me," he told RFE/RL. "Our office has warned the international presence, especially the European one, that such a thing would happen."

Sadri Ferhati, the former minister for local governance, said that in the current circumstances it is important to avoid any violent incidents. Ferhati said what has happened within the ethnic Serbian leadership in Kosovo is more of a power struggle inside the parallel structures than a real change of policies.

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on September 9 that urges Pristina and Belgrade to begin a dialogue on unresolved issues, including Kosovo's status. Belgrade rejects Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, which has been recognized by 70 countries, saying Kosovo will always be part of Serbia.

The EU, which is designated as the facilitator of the dialogue, has asked both sides to start talks as soon as possible. But the agenda of such talks has not yet been agreed.

The Kosovar government has said it is prepared to talk only about practical matters that have a real impact on the daily lives of its citizens. Serbia has expressed its readiness for the talks but for Belgrade all issues must be on the table, including Kosovo's status.