Kosovo Serbs set up rival assembly

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The Independent Online

Kosovo Serbs have inaugurated their own assembly in the divided town of Mitrovica, in a blow to the authority of the new state's ethnic Albanian leadership.

Forty-five members of the "parliament" were elected last month, during a general election in Serbia proper. The voting by Kosovo Serbs was deemed illegal by the UN administration and Kosovan government. The Kosovo Serb parliament has no authority, but reflects a deepening ethnic partition of Kosovo since its Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia in February – a move backed by the West but opposed by Belgrade and Russia.

It is mostly made up of ultranationalists close to the outgoing Serbian government of Vojislav Kostunica and represents 50,000 Serbs in north Kosovo. Ninety per cent of Kosovo's population of two million are ethnic Albanians.

The outgoing Serbian minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said at the inaugural session on Saturday that "Serbs in Kosovo now have democratically elected representatives and bodies of authority ... these will be a de facto part of Serbia's authority in the field".

The President of Kosovo, Fatmir Sejdiu, said the assembly was "an attempt to destabilise Kosovo".