Serbia in threat to partition Kosovo

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The Independent Online

Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister-designate, signalled a major shift in Serbian policy yesterday which is likely to dismay the West, by vowing to partition Kosovo, and warning of limited co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal.

Mr Kostunica, a moderate nationalist, said the only way to secure the survival of minority ethnic Serbs in Kosovo province was through "territorial autonomy, partition of Kosovo into entities or cantonisation". Tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs live in the north of the province. Almost 200,000 fled Kosovo in 1999 after 11 weeks of Nato raids.

Mr Kostunica's minority government - his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and two smaller parties - secured the majority by striking a deal with the socialists of the deposed Slobodan Milosevic, on trial for war crimes in The Hague. They demanded that the state pays for Mr Milosevic's defence as a condition of support. The defence starts in June.

Mr Kostunica said he would start "two-way" co-operation with the tribunal, and did not promise to extradite suspects to The Hague. "We'll do everything to speed war crimes trials before domestic courts and seek help for the defence of indictees," he said. He also said that his government would work to have those already sentenced to serve their terms in Serbia.