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West urges Kosovo to reverse decision to ban Serbian dinar

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Four European countries and the United States urged Kosovo on Sunday to suspend a decision banning Kosovo's Serb minority from using the Serbian dinar, a move which could fuel ethnic tensions in the volatile north.

Kosovo's official currency is the euro, but the majority of its 5% Serb community also uses the dinar as part of their refusal to recognise Kosovo's statehood.

The Central Bank said early this month that all payments in Kosovo should be done only in euros, suggesting that the Serbian dinar will not be used from Feb. 1.

Serbia, which does not recognise the independence of its former breakaway province, continues to use the dinar to pay pensions, social assistance and salaries for Serbian illegal parallel institutions in Kosovo.

"We are concerned about the impact of the (Central Bank) regulation in particular in schools and hospitals, for which no alternative process seems viable at the moment," said the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain, known as the Quint group.

The Quint countries, which are Kosovo's biggest allies both politically and financially, said a delay in implementing the decision should "allow a sufficiently long period of transition, and for clear and effective public communication."

Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo's 2008 independence, and the north region where half of the 100,000 Serb minority lives has witnessed frequent ethnic violence.

The worst violence culminated in September last year when Serb gunmen attacked Kosovo police in the north village of Banjska, resulting in the death of one police officer and three gunmen.

After 25 years since the war ended the country of 1.8 million is still guarded by NATO troops which reinforced its presence with another 1,000 troops after last year violence.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Leslie Adler)