UN deal on Serb return to Kosovo

September 28, 2001

All faculties in the displaced Serbian University of Pristina are to return to Kosovo under a provisional deal between the United Nations and the new government in Belgrade.

Most will be based in the Serb-dominated town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Michael Daxner, the UN's education chief in Kosovo, has pledged that the UN will provide security for Serb students and professors, most of whose departments were displaced to southern Serbia.

Further discussions are scheduled on the issue of student numbers and funding. Serbian authorities estimate student numbers could be as high as 17,000 but say many students may choose not to study in Kosovo.

According to the Belgrade authorities, Professor Daxner has also promised that the UN administrative authority in the province will help to fund reconstruction, with curricula decided by the university's Serb academics.

University education in Kosovo is controversial because of the lack of clarity on the long-term status of the province and the language of the UN Security Council resolution 1244, which mandates the UN to administer public services but does not specifically mention education.

According to an agreement made with Belgrade in 1999, Kosovo remains part of sovereign Serbia. Under Slobodan Milosevic and the new republic government, Belgrade provided some funding for the displaced University of Pristina.

The agreement on the return was reached after a meeting this month between Professor Daxner and the Serbian deputy minister of education, Srbijanka Turajlic.

Both sides accept that the deal will be part of a broader package over Kosovo to be formally sealed by Belgrade's negotiator for the province, deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic, and the chief of the UN mission in Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup.

The provisional agreement comes shortly before elections on November 18 that look certain to bring to the province a Kosovo Albanian government that will be bound by the deal.

Professor Daxner is responsible for a university in Pristina that teaches solely in the Albanian language.

"The problem is not the language - many Albanians speak the Serb language; fewer Serbs speak Albanian - but security for Serbs, who cannot come to Pristina and study under safe circumstances," he said.

Belgrade sees the deal as a political and educational triumph but Professor Daxner was playing it down last week, describing it merely as "a very friendly and down-to-earth exchange of views".

Dr Turajlic said: "We would like everybody to stop including education in political games."

She added that Kosovo Serbs "have a feeling that they have been forgotten. Without a university, whoever graduated from high school would go somewhere else to study and would probably never come back".

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