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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Serbs fear Kosovo breakaway
Relatives holding pictures of the missing
Around 1,300 Kosovo Serbs are still missing
By Belgrade journalist Dusan Radulovic

"Why is Serbia silent?" exclaimed Simo Spasic, leader of the Association of Parents of Missing Persons during recent demonstrations in Belgrade.


This is our territory, but there is less and less chance that we are going to keep it

Belgrade resident

He was visibly angry with passers-by who seemed concerned only with the fact that the streets were blocked, and who did not want to join the protest of about 100 demonstrators.

Preoccupied with their own problems of how to survive in difficult economic conditions, residents of Belgrade seem to be refusing to think about Kosovo.

For most of them it is a faraway problem of concern only to politicians.

Resignation

After the Nato bombardment and the arrival of K-For peacekeepers in Kosovo - and especially after the fall of the Milosevic regime that began its rise on the back of nationalist myths about Kosovo - many Serbians regard the southern province as a problem for the international community, not Serbia.

Belgrade poor receive food
Belgrade residents have their own worries

"This is our territory, but there is less and less chance that we are going to keep it," says 32-year-old Aleksandra from Belgrade.

"Maybe our only chance of keeping at least some of it is if there is some sort of division, so that the northern part of Kosovo stays in Serbia, and the rest," she adds.

"Of course, I feel sorry about our monasteries, churches and monuments."

Divided

After the Serbian Government called on Serbs in Kosovo to vote in the coming election, sharp divisions have appeared both among the Serbs who have remained in the province, and among the estimated 250,000 Serbian refugees from Kosovo in Serbia proper.

Whenever you talk to them, they express profound disappointment - they say the government has betrayed them, and that K-For is doing nothing to protect the Serbs in Kosovo.


The question of the status of Kosovo will be dealt with only after the mandate of this parliament expires

Archbishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren

They refer to daily news of attacks on them and the destruction of Serbian property and churches - and the lack of security is likely to affect turnout.

A government media campaign calling on people to vote - and backed by the leader of the Renewal Coalition, that represents Serbs from Kosovo and Serbia proper - has so far borne little fruit.

Asked if Serbs would boycott the election, Milan Mihajlovic, a journalist at a local radio station in the Serb part of Kosovska Mitrovica replies:

"Everything can change overnight with the Serbs. Just as easily, their current decision to boycott the election could easily turn into something else, even a mass turnout on polling day".

Convoy of tractors carrying refugees
More than 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo

Political analysts here think that the recent agreement between Belgrade and representatives of the international administration in Kosovo - which resulted in Mr Kostunica's call on Serbs to vote - is most likely to influence refugees from Kosovo living in Serbia proper.

Most of them see the inclusion of Serbs in the provincial government as the only way to keep their hopes alive that they will one day return home.

Officials are encouraging them in this hope.

"Extremists among Albanians, who are carried away by their romantic dream of an ethnically pure Greater Albania, know very well that Serbs, even though they are a minority in the Kosovo parliament, would be a serious danger to their goals", says Nebojsa Cocovic, a leading member of the Serbian Government in Kosovo.

Scepticism

The politicians who are trying to persuade Serbs to turn out to vote have to address the fear that the Albanian majority in the assembly will try to adopt a decision on Kosovo's secession from Serbia.

Serbs in Kosovo and the refugees from the province who live in Serbia do not believe the international community when it says repeatedly that it is prepared to prevent this.

They hear Albanian party leaders daily using the independence of Kosovo as their key platform in the election campaign.

K-For soldier has to protect Serbs almost around the clock
Safety concerns may lead to a low Serb turnout

Archbishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren, one of the Serbian leaders in Kosovo said in the Belgrade daily Blic, as part of an attempt to persuade Serbs to vote, that the new parliament would not be able to proclaim independence.

"Nobody in the world and no document approves the independence of Kosovo. The question of the status of Kosovo will be dealt with only after the mandate of this parliament expires," he says.

"I believe that the world will examine the work of both Serbs and Albanians through a magnifying glass, and that this will be of crucial importance when the final decision is made."

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo prepares to vote
14 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo gears up for elections
17 Jun 01 | Europe
UN takes peace mission to Kosovo
04 Feb 00 | Europe
Analysis: Protecting the Serbs
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