Serbia leader rejects Kosovo independence
Serbia's President Boris Tadic, touring Kosovo in the first visit by a Serbian leader since the 1999 war, sought Sunday to reassert his country's claim over the U.N.-run province, vowing never to accept its independence.
"This is Serbia!" Tadic declared in the village of Silovo, a Serbian enclave in eastern Kosovo, as he began a two-day tour of the province that sparked angry protests by ethnic Albanians who hurled eggs at the U.N. headquarters in the provincial capital, Pristina.
An estimated 10,000 people, mostly Albanians, were killed in the 1998-99 war between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian security forces. The brutality of the Serbs' response to the rebellion triggered NATO airstrikes which ended Belgrade's rule in Kosovo and paved the way for the U.N. administration.
Kosovo officially remains a part of Serbia pending a final settlement in negotiations expected later this year. The province's majority ethnic Albanians insist on independence, while Belgrade hopes to retain at least some authority in the region it cherishes as the cradle of Serbian statehood.
"Kosovo is Serbia, not only by our laws but by international laws also," Tadic said. "Independence of Kosovo is unacceptable for me. I will never endorse it."
Tadic, who met with the province's U.N. administrator and visited a Serbian Orthodox Christian church destroyed during rioting last year by ethnic Albanian mobs, called for reconciliation.
"There's been a long history of hatred and destruction in all of the Balkans including Kosovo," he said. "That has to stop."
The head of the U.N. mission, Soren Jessen-Petersen, expressed hope that Tadic would "send positive signals on Belgrade's readiness to build bridges of trust."
It remained unclear, however, whether Tadic would meet any of the ethnic Albanian leaders — another sign that relations between the wartime foes remain tense despite international efforts at reconciliation.
The Serbs in Silovo, Cernica, Strpce and other isolated enclaves in Kosovo greeted Tadic with hopes of a better future.
"It is so good to see a Serbian president here after so many years," said Milorad Jovicic, a 65-year-old from Cernica who braved rain and cold weather to meet Tadic.
About 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, one-third of their prewar population. They have little freedom of movement and face occasional attacks and harassment by ethnic Albanian militants. Thousands of Serbs were expelled from their homes during ethnically motivated riots last year.
"I don't have a magic wand to fix all the problems," Tadic told the Serbs, but pledged to "do everything possible to make sure that you have the right to live and survive here."