14 November 2006

US welcomes Serbian constitution, except for Kosovo provision

Agence France Presse, Mon Oct 30, 4:21 PM ET


WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States welcomed Serbia's adoption of a new constitution as a positive step for democracy, but it brushed aside the document's attempt to cement Belgrade's authority over the breakaway province of Kosovo.


Preliminary results from a weekend referendum showed voters narrowly endorsing the constitution, drafted to account for the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and, most recently, Montenegro's separation from Serbia in May.


"It's a positive step forward for the Serbian people in terms of having a democratic process to deal with what could have been very heated political disputes," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.


He said thorny issues relating to the dissolution of the Serbia-Montenegro union "were dealt with in a clear, rational manner" in the new constitution.


But McCormack said provisions in the text reasserting Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo were irrelevant given an ongoing UN-administered effort to determine the future of the province.


"That process is governed by a UN Security Council resolution," he said.


Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO troops ousted Serbian forces from the province to halt attacks on the region's ethnic Albanian majority.


A special UN envoy for Kosovo, former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari, has been trying to negotiate a status agreement for the province before the end of this year, but has been hamstrung by Serbian opposition.


The ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population are seeking independence for the province, while Belgrade is only prepared to offer broad autonomy.