25 March 2006

Serbia blasts Britain for allegedly promoting secession of Kosovo

Associated Press, Feb 07, 2006 2:09 PM


BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro-Serbia's government on Tuesday accused Britain of pressing for Kosovo's independence even before the official start of negotiations on the future of the troubled province.


Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica issued a strongly-worded statement after meeting with John Sawers, Britain's Foreign Office political director, who visited Belgrade as part of preparations for talks on a settlement for Serbia's southern province that has been an international protectorate since 1999.


Kostunica accused Sawers of "advocating a one-sided approach to solving the problem of Kosovo ... even before the official start of the negotiations" about the province run by the United Nations since NATO bombing halted a Serb crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists.


Sawers arrived in Belgrade after meeting Monday in Kosovo with pro-independence ethnic Albanians and with Kosovo's dwindling Serb community.


"Any attempt to impose a solution ... represents not only unacceptable pressure on a democratic state, but also violates the fundamental principles of international law," Kostunica said in his statement.


Sawers left the meeting without a word, but later spoke to reporters, saying "clearly, independence is one of the options."


"A series of questions will be addressed" at the official negotiations expected later this month in Austria, Sawers said. "Details will be of essential importance ... so that Kosovo Albanians, Kosovo Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo can live freely."


The so-called Contact Group for Kosovo, the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia, has called for a resolution of Kosovo's status by the end of the year.


Diplomats from the six nations met in London last week, without pre-empting an outcome but said Belgrade should "bear in mind that the settlement needs ... to be acceptable to the people of Kosovo" where the ethnic Albanians form an overwhelming majority.


Serbia's government has repeatedly offered broad autonomy for Kosovo but remains opposed to its independence.


Kostunica claimed that Sawers' views were "completely contrary to the official statements released by the Contact Group in London" and added that it is "important that Great Britain respects the principles adopted by the Contact Group," which also urged the rival sides to work closely with U.N. envoy on Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari.


Kostunica said he has "full confidence in the (U.N.) Security Council ... and the principle of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of internationally recognized states."


On Monday, Sawers said in Kosovo that its independence from Serbia is conditional on it becoming a democracy that respects the minority rights.


More than 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo and the remaining 100,000 mostly live in scattered enclaves under occasional attacks by ethnic Albanian militants.


Also Tuesday, the Serbian Orthodox Church demanded that a future solution for Kosovo envisage "protection zones" around its ancient monasteries and churches in the province and the restoration of dozens of damaged or torched temples.


The church also called for "special monitoring by the international community ... to save the heritage which is part of Europe's culture."