Kosovo independence could spark violence - Russian FM

Russia's Foreign Minister is warning that Kosovo could erupt into ethnic violence if the province declares independence. Speaking in Cyprus, Sergey Lavrov said a unilateral declaration would also set a dangerous precedent for other regions seeking independence.

A UN deadline to find agreement on the future status of Kosovo expires on Monday, 10 December. Kosovan Albanians insist they'll declare the Serb province independent on that day - a move strongly opposed by Belgrade.

Russia is backing Serbia, while the U.S. and many EU states support Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

On Friday, a report by the international troika of mediators confirmed talks betweeen Belgrade and Pristina ended in deadlock. Moscow called for further negotiations, saying a compromise was still possible.

But Kosovan negotiators refuse to budge from their demand for outright independence. Opponents of this, including Russia, warn of setting a dangerous precedent. Moscow insists on a solution acceptable to both Serbia and the breakaway province.

On the ground, there are fears of instability and clashes between Serbs and Albanians. A 16-thousand strong NATO peacekeeping force keeps the sides apart.

The town of Mitrovica, split along ethnic lines, is a symbol of division in Kosovo.

The bridge over the Ibar River is a dividing line: the Serbs on one side, ethnic Albanians on the other. The two parts of the town live parallel lives, each with its own institutions.

Nikola Kabasnic, a lawyer working in Mitrovica's Serbian courts, disagrees with the view that Serbs are to blame for the conflict. He fears for the future.

"I'm not sure that we'll stay here if Kosovo gets independence. We know that they'll start with some violence against the Serbs because they want to finish what they started in 1999," he said.

The majority of the Serbs in Mitrovica receive a civil servant's wage from the government in Belgrade.

Yet there is little real employment. Local factories shut down years ago, and no one will invest. Instead a thriving black market deals in drugs and guns.

Most new arrivals to Mitrovica are refugees from other parts of Kosovo.

The career of Nebojsha Jovic from the Serbian National Council was forged during the Kosovo War and the riots in 2004. Most local politicians have a similar background. In 2004 several people died and more than three hundred were injured during a stand-off between Serbs and Albanians across the Ibar Bridge. He says the local Serbs will not accept Kosovo independence.

"I'm not advocating war, I'm a parent with two kids", Nebojsha Jovic said.

But he thinks they will have to employ all political, diplomatic and other means. "Simply, we won't have any other choice," he added.

Supporters of independence say it's the logical outcome for a region with a 90 per cent Albanian population. They feel this is a fair price for the Serbian ethnic cleansing of the late 1990s.

But Mitrovica's Serbs, most of who were born in Kosovo, see it as anything but fair.

Living with a dysfunctional economy, surrounded by people whose values and religion they do not share, and guarded by a UN force they do not trust, there is little going for the people of Mitrovica. ( RT )

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