Serb threats ahead of Kosovo polls must stop - UN

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PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 23 (Reuters) The United Nations administration in Kosovo urged Serb leaders today to stop intimidating their ethnic kin who want to vote in the Albanian-dominated province's polls in November.

Local and parliamentary elections are set for November 17, but Belgrade authorities have asked Kosovo Serbs not to take part, fearing their participation would be seen as Serb consent to the province's independence drive.

''We have several public statements coming from (Serb dominated) northern Mitrovica... which can be only described as threatening and intimidating to the population who want to vote in this election,'' UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko said.

He told journalists there had been reports of officials from Serbia travelling to Kosovo for meetings aimed at discouraging local Serbs from voting.

''This is unacceptable. UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo) once again urges Belgrade to refrain from any activities that undermine elections and Kosovo Serb participation,'' he said.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, after NATO bombed it for 11 weeks to drive out Serb troops that had been killing and expelling ethnic Albanian civilians in an attempt to crush a guerrilla insurgency there.

Kosovo's final status is still in limbo. Its 98 per cent Albanian population wants independence, but Belgrade vehemently opposes that option, offering substantial autonomy instead.

The two sides are currently engaged in face-to-face negotiations mediated by the troika of envoys from the European Union, the United States and Russia.

The parties met for the third time in Vienna on Monday and the next meeting is set for November 5.

The envoys are due to report on the progress to the UN Security Council on December 10 and the EU's man in the troika, Wolfgang Ischinger, said the talks now had to intensify.

Russia wants talks to continue until a solution is agreed, irrespective of the December 10 deadline, while Kosovo Albanians say they are ready to declare independence with or without a deal.

''A certain amount of time pressure, really, is not so bad ....It would be dangerous to negotiate endlessly,'' Ischinger said in an interview to Austrian daily Die Presse on Tuesday.

Washington is pushing the EU to recognise Kosovo's independence but the 27-member bloc is split on how to act.

REUTERS SZ AS1852

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