Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Wednesday that NATO must protect the Serbian minority in Kosovo, where tensions have strengthen after delaying the plan to give the province independence.
Jeremic said that during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer he also called for closer cooperation between Serbia's armed forces and NATO-led forces based in Kosovo.
"I'm very worried by the security situation in our southern province," Jeremic told journalists after the talks.
Kosovo, a province of 2 million, of whom 90 percent are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the U.N. since mid-1999 when a NATO air war halted a crackdown by Serb forces on separatist rebels.
Earlier this year, the U.N. unveiled a peace plan that would grant Kosovo supervised independence. This was immediately rejected by both Serbia and Russia, which has threatened to veto the plan in the U.N. Security Council.
Although the United States and the EU back the plan, Moscow's opposition has caused it to be delayed by 4-6 months.
Leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian community have warned that an indefinite postponement of independence could trigger another outbreak of inter-communal violence.
"I asked de Hoop Scheffer and NATO to do everything to maintain public peace and order (and ensure) there is no threat to the security of Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo," Jeremic said.
In March, two people died in a clash in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, between several thousand ethnic Albanians protesters and U.N. riot police. Kosovo's dwindling Serb minority has repeatedly been targeted in other revenge attacks and many have fled the province.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said de Hoop Scheffer had reassured Jeremic that KFOR's 17,000 troops were fully capable of ensuring security in the region.
"Any party that engages in violence will meet with a stiff response from KFOR," Appathurai said.