Thu, Mar 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Serbian PM calls for ethnic division of Kosovo province

THE GUARDIAN , ZAGREB

Serbia appeared to be heading for renewed international isolation on Tuesday night when new Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica unveiled a nationalist agenda calling for the ethnic division of Kosovo and opposing the transfer of war-crimes suspects to the international tribunal in The Hague.

After two months of haggling over the shape of the new government, Kostunica, a conservative nationalist former president of Yugoslavia, headed a minority government in the newly formed parliament.

It will be shored up by the tacit support of Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian Socialist party.

Three years ago, Kostunica helped overthrow Milosevic, who is on trial in The Hague for war crimes.

The price paid for its support was clear from Kostunica's statement to parliament in Belgrade of his government's policies.

Although the EU, the US and the tribunal are pressing Belgrade to transfer 15 war-crimes suspects for trial, Kostunica said that all accused Serbs should be tried at home, a prospect that inspires little confidence in the West or in former Yugoslavia.

He also called on The Hague to return all convicted Serbs to serve their sentences at home.

The elections at the end of December deepened Serbia's crisis by giving victory to the neo-fascist Radicals, led by the war-crimes indictee Vojislav Seselj, who is held in The Hague awaiting trial.

His party was unable to form a government.

Western diplomats in Belgrade are alarmed at the direction being taken by Kostunica, and the EU has been issuing warnings. Belgrade may also have to forego US$100 million in American aid because of its recalcitrance in handling war crimes.

Kostunica called for a division of the province of Kosovo, currently administered by the UN and most of whose inhabitants are ethnic Albanians, to safeguard the Serbian minority there.

If that were to happen it would would pave the way for the partition of the province.

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