Responding to a series of demonstrations held by Kosovo Serbs to protest the setting up of tax collection centres in northern Kosovo, the United Nations mission in the province said today that the establishment of these points was "nothing new" and that all Kosovars would gain from the collected revenues.
Noting that for the past two days the protesters had been blocking roads around Leposevac and Zubin Potok, Michael Keats, a spokesman for the UN Transitional Administration (UNMIK), said the regulation enabling the collection points dated from 1999. The first tax centre had been set up in February 2000, he said, pointing out that the excise and sales taxes being levied were internal taxes that would benefit all residents of Kosovo.
The demonstrations had been peaceful, Mr. Keats reported, adding that one protest held in northern Mitrovica had dispersed without incident earlier in the day.
Comprehensive efforts were under way to ensure that the facts were understood by the local population, Mr. Keats said. He added that UNMIK "expects those who wish to raise questions about the tax collection centres to do so in proper channels, not by committing illegal acts or blocking access."
Meanwhile, UNMIK head Hans Haekkerup said in Pristina today that the working group drafting a legal framework for Kosovo's self-government had reached agreement on 99 per cent of the document. He noted, however, that the last 1 per cent would involve "very tough negotiations." Pending issues included the official name of the document, the Presidency, the constitutional court and the right to hold a referendum. Participation in the deliberations by Kosovo Serbs had been "politically very useful," he added.
In another development, the international security presence in Kosovo (KFOR) announced this morning that five Serb men recently released by "ethnic Albanian extremists" in the Presevo Valley were turned over to Serb authorities near the village of Mejdia this morning.