Serbia + 1 more

Kosovo leaders say blasts meant to block independence

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By Shaban Buza
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, July 3 (Reuters) - Three synchronised explosions in Kosovo's capital city were aimed at blocking the path to independence from Serbia, the province's ethnic Albanian president and prime minister said on Sunday.

The blasts rocked a triangle of central Pristina at 9.30 p.m. (1930 GMT) -- at the United Nations mission office, the headquarters of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Kosovo's parliament building.

No one was injured. But any violence could hurt Albanian hopes of a positive review by U.N. envoy Kai Eide, now beginning an assessment of whether Kosovo has achieved enough democratic stability since 1999 to begin negotiations on its future status.

"The aim of these dangerous acts is to destabilize our country. (They) came at time when positive assessment of the progress in Kosovo is expected, which will open the way for the recognition of independence," said President Ibrahim Rugova.

Police reopened the city centre on Sunday morning and three U.N. vehicles gutted by fire were removed for forensic analysis. A senior U.N. security source indicated at least one of the explosions was caused by a hand grenade.

Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi also linked the blasts to Eide's review process, expected to conclude by September.

"It seems there are forces that want to devalue the achievements that our institutions have made," he said. "But they cannot stop the path towards our goal."

NO TIME TO ROCK THE BOAT

Kosovo has seen a spate of bomb attacks and shootings, often aimed at U.N. property, since Kosumi's predecessor Ramush Haradinaj resigned in March and surrendered to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague to face charges of war crimes.

Kosovo Albanians view Haradinaj as a hero of the 1998-99 guerrilla insurgency which ended with Serb forces being driven from the province by three months of NATO bombing.

Analysts say the attacks are a taste of what could happen if the 90-percent Albanian majority is denied full independence.

The United Nations administrator of the province, Soren Jessen-Petersen, issued a statement saying such attacks "are not supported by the people of Kosovo".

"Violence will not divert us from our determination to support the (government) and citizens in their strong efforts to build a peaceful, democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo," he said.

Western powers are said to be considering "conditional independence" for Kosovo under European Union supervision.

But they have already made clear Kosovo will not return to rule from Serbia and have vested the province with powers Serbia says should only be reserved for an independent state -- its own police force, customs service, currency and postal code.

"This is a really delicate time," a senior U.N. official who asked not to be named told Reuters. "Even among the extremists there's an understanding now is not the time to rock the boat."

Western diplomats say the most likely scenario for "status negotiations" is six to nine months of European-led shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina.

Some elements within the Albanian majority say even this is conceding too much. They do not want Belgrade involved at all.

(Additional reporting by Matthew Robinson)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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