Serbs, ethnic Albanians discuss protection of Kosovo’s religious sites

Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of their civilization and key Serbian religious and historic sites are located there. In March 2004, more than 30 medieval churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged in anti-Serb riots.

In May the two delegations reached a tentative agreement on the issue of physical protection of Serbian Orthodox religious sites in the province and on protection zones that would be guarded by international peacekeepers.

Under the deal, Serbian Orthodox dioceses in Kosovo would have the right to maintain special ties with the Patriarchate in Belgrade, to enjoy tax privileges, freedom of movement and the right to run other affairs.

A separate round of talks on Serbian self-rule in the province is scheduled for Wednesday.

On Monday Kosovo's ethnic Albanian negotiators announced they will consider increasing the number of new Serb municipalities to give the province's minority more rights in running its affairs, according to the AP.

Initially, ethnic Albanian leaders offered four municipalities, while Serbian officials demanded the creation of 14. Ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million. Some 200,000 Serbs fled the province in 1999 after the 78-day NATO bombing ousted Serbian troops from Kosovo.

Previous rounds of the Vienna negotiations have yielded few results and there has been increasing pressure by U.N. mediators for more flexibility and compromise in the talks.