UN tells Belgrade to stop intimidating ethnic Serbs over Kosovo elections

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The United Nations has told Serb leaders to stop intimidating ethnic Serbs in Kosovo who want to vote in the Albanian-dominated province's election in November. Local and parliamentary polls are set for 17 November, but Belgrade has asked Kosovo Serbs not to take part, fearing their participation would be seen as consent for the province's drive for independence.

A spokesman for the UN, Alexander Ivanko, said: "We have several public statements coming from [Serb- dominated] northern Mitrovica... which can be only described as threatening and intimidating to the population who want to vote in this election."

The warning came after a fractious day of talks in Vienna aimed at settling the future of the contested province. A new plan, proposed by the European Union, the US and Russia, abandoned previous commitments to secure independence for Kosovo. Instead, the "troika" has settled for a formula that ensures Belgrade will not govern Kosovo in the future and will not re-establish a physical presence there.

The reaction of the Kosovo-Albanian delegation was predictably fiery. "We want to be independent, with a seat at the UN," the ethnic Albanian negotiator Skender Hyseni said. For Belgrade, the Vienna meeting was of "extreme importance," the Serbian Foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, said.

Belgrade's objections to the 14-point plan, countered by a Serbian 14-point answer in Vienna, were mostly concerned with the insistence that Kosovo remained an integral part of Serbia.

Belgrade did not oppose co-operation in the energy sector, free movement of people and goods, the battle against organised crime and clearing the fate of thousands of people missing in Kosovo after the civil war. But its insistence that Kosovo should not have a separate foreign policy and defence confirmed that nothing more than broad autonomy to the two million population of the province is offered to Pristina.

The Kosovo Prime Minister, Agim Ceku, said: "We're having two different concepts here. One is linked to the past, the other to the future. The issue here is the future of Kosovo, of Serbia and of the region."