27 March 2006

Serbia's prime minister says independence for Kosovo would lead to spiral of violence

AP, Feb 27, 2006 9:38 AM


BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro-Serbia's prime minister said Monday that granting independence to U.N.-run Kosovo province would lead to a spiral of violence in the troubled Balkans.


Vojislav Kostunica said in a keynote parliamentary speech that Serbia would never accept that its southern region, Kosovo, a U.N. protectorate since 1999, should become a separate state.


"That (independence) would plant a new seed of evil, and lead to a fresh spiral of violence," Kostunica told the lawmakers. "A stable peace and progress of this region can only be achieved through justice, not by one-sided, imposed acts."


U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari, heading international efforts to find a solution for Kosovo, was due in the region Monday.


The province came under U.N. control after a NATO air war halted a Serb crackdown Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists nearly seven years ago.


The ethnic Albanians insist on independence, but Belgrade wants to retain at least formal control over the region, which many Serbs consider the birthplace of their nation, centuries ago.


Some international officials have suggested in talks with Belgrade leaders that Kosovo might eventually become independent.


But Kostunica said Serbia "must not allow that an independent state be created within our state ... which would take away much of our identity."


"No free and democratic country would allow such a grab of its territory," he said.


Solving the Kosovo dispute is considered crucial for stability of the war-scarred Balkans.


Illustrating Serb feelings about the province, ultranationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic told the parliament Monday that Serbia should declare Kosovo an occupied territory if it becomes independent.


Nikolic, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, the single strongest group in the assembly, said that if Kosovo becomes a new state, Serbia "will have to decide about war and peace."


The Radicals ruled Serbia, along with nationalist former President Slobodan Milosevic, backing his war policies in Kosovo. The Radical party, whose popularity has been on the rise in Serbia, is considered likely to win the next Serbian election, due in late 2007.


Prime Minister Kostunica said that "Serbia is ready for an agreement (over Kosovo) and a just solution."


Belgrade's offer to the ethnic Albanians includes "substantial, full autonomy," but within Serbia's boundaries, he said.


"Our side is offering a solution that is a historic compromise," Kostunica said. "That is a solution between independence and standard autonomy."


The ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, about 90 percent of the province's population, have rejected such Serbian offers in the past, insisting they would settle for nothing less than independence.