Some 4,000 Serbs in central Kosovo have been cut off from electricity for three straight weeks on Monday owing to unpaid bills -- a development which could seriously harm ethnic relations in troubled province before a series of "crucial developments" expected next year.
The situation in Serb villages Laplje Selo, Caglavica and Preoce in the southern suburbs of Pristina was described as "horrible" after the Kosovo Electric Company (KEK) cut off power to some 1,000 homes, schools and medical services.
"If the blackout continues we will be forced to erect road-blocks on the Pristina-Skopje road," local Serb leaders said.
The power company said that their debt mounted at some 35 million euros, which led to the "unpopular decision" to halt the delivery of electricity to Serb clients, whose leaders immediately accused the province's UN mission of "tacit ethnic cleansing."
The Kosovo's overall debt to the power company was estimated at some 250 million euros (US$340 million), since the international administration failed to establish a firm billing system despite the 600 million euros of foreign donations pumped into the KEK in past five years.
The blackout in isolated Serbian enclaves raised a storm of criticism in Belgrade, as President Boris Tadic's cabinet offered 16,000 euros to cover the initial debt, but Kosovo authorities immediately said that "Serbs have to pay the full amount."
In addition, Belgrade officials blamed the KEK of using the issue to "force Serbs out of their homes" in central Kosovo's enclave, surrounded by hostile Albanians.
Some 200,000 Serbs have been driven out of their homes since the UN took control over the troubled province in 1999, including 4,500 who fled central Kosovo during Albanian riots last March.