Pristina and Belgrade to hold new round of talks on cultural and religious sites

4july2006.jpgKosovo’s negotiating team has agreed to participate in another session of direct talks with Belgrade on cultural heritage in Kosovo, to be held on 11 July in Vienna. Yet the Kosovo side says it will not accept new demands regarding protection zones around Serb Orthodox cultural and religious sites.

“We are against compromise on this issue,” said a spokesperson for the negotiating team, Skender Hyseni. He said the team would examine new proposals from a UN-sponsored working group, but that no more room exists for concessions.

UN Deputy Special Envoy Albert Rohan’s office has assembled a group consisting of representatives from Serbia and Kosovo — as well as from international institutions such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe — to tackle the issue on a case by case basis. On Thursday (6 July), Rohan will arrive in Pristina to discuss the upcoming session. He will bring with him 12 maps illustrating possible religious protection zones around various sites.

But the Kosovo negotiators have already indicated they regard some of these as untenable.

“For example, the Gracanica monastery. How can it have a protection zone, while one of the main roads crosses near the important religious building?” Hyseni added.

Envoy for status talks Martti Ahtisaari’s office denied on Monday that Belgrade has put in any official request to adjourn the next round of talks. The co-ordinator for the Serbian negotiating team, Slobodan Samardzic, had earlier said the Serbian government wanted to postpone the meeting, since both he and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will be on a visit to the United States at the time.

Meanwhile, a group of Catholic and Orthodox bishops has asked Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders to negotiate in “good faith” over the political future of Kosovo, which is currently under UN administration.

The bishops also called for the safe return of 200,000 Serbs and other minorities who have left Kosovo as a result of violence there.

“Only through a real dialogue of mutual respect and good-faith negotiations can justice become a reality in Kosovo,” said a statement issued by the Joint Commission of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops, meeting in Washington.

The commission is composed of US Catholic bishops and Orthodox bishops from Canada and the United States. It deals with ways in which the two churches can co-operate on practical issues.

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