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Kosovo, Serbia Hurl Charges At Each Other At UN

Serbian President Boris Tadic
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- The acrimonious relations between Serbia and its former territory Kosovo spilled over at the United Nations on March 23, when Kosovo accused Belgrade of stirring up crime in its northern areas.

Serbia, in response, said an "ethnic-Albanian mafia" was involved in human trafficking, arms smuggling, and drugs.

The exchanges took place in a Security Council debate on a report on Kosovo from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a year after Pristina seceded from Serbia. That followed more than a decade of upheaval in the Balkans.

"The situation in the north remains an issue of utmost concern," Kosovo's Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni told the meeting. "Lawlessness, with evident support of the leadership in Belgrade, has turned this part of Kosovo into a safe haven for all kinds of criminal and illegal economic activity."

Serbian President Boris Tadic restated Belgrade's position that his country would "never recognize the independence of Kosovo, either directly or indirectly."

"Serbia, together with a number of European Union member states, faces tremendous problems arising out of the activities of the ethnic-Albanian mafia in Kosovo, which specializes in the trafficking of narcotics, human beings, and weapons."

Ninety percent of people in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians. Most of the remaining 120,000 Serbs refuse to work with Albanian-run institutions.

Under a six-point plan agreed last year, police, customs officers and judges in the Serb-run areas of northern Kosovo remain under the UN umbrella, known as UNMIK, while their Albanian counterparts work with a European Union police and justice mission called EULEX.

Ban's report to the council said the security situation in Kosovo was generally stable, apart from a few recent incidents in the north. He said many Serbs there refuse to cooperate with authorities in the capital Pristina, while Albanians see the UN presence as an obstacle to their independence.

Pristina Wants UN To Go

Hyseni told reporters that his government wanted UNMIK to wind up operations and leave Kosovo "as soon as possible." Ban's report, however, calls for UNMIK to maintain a small presence in Kosovo for an indefinite period of time.

Officially, the United Nations remains in charge of Kosovo on the basis of a 1999 Security Council resolution passed after a NATO bombing campaign of Serbia ended a 1998-1999 war between Serb forces and Albanian guerrillas.

The 15-nation council has been unable to make any changes to the UN mandate or the 1999 resolution, because it is split over what to do with the UN presence there and the legality of Pristina's February 2008 declaration of independence.

Hyseni also said he was ready to engage in direct talks and normalize relations with Belgrade. He added that he would remain in New York for several days to meet with diplomats from the countries that have not recognized Kosovo's independence and urge them to join the 56 states that have already done so.

Tadic dismissed the idea that Kosovo had transformed itself into an independent country. "It is obvious to everyone today that 13 months after the illegal, unilateral declaration of independence, Kosovo is no state," he told the council.

Many Western countries have recognized Kosovo's independence. Serbia's principal ally Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has said it will never do so and will use its power to block Kosovo's access to international organizations like the United Nations.

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin brushed aside Hyseni's complaints of Serbian interference, saying, "it is an accuse Belgrade of all the problems of Kosovo."