04 December 2006

Talk gets tougher as Serbia battles loss of Kosovo

Reuters, Mon Nov 6, 2006 2:52 PM ET By Douglas Hamilton


BELGRADE (Reuters) - With a general election around the corner, the Serbian government on Monday waded deeper into a diplomatic battle to block Western moves to grant independence to its breakaway province of Kosovo.


As the United Nations nears a decision that could go against it, Belgrade called for the resignation of the U.N. envoy on Kosovo. This came a day after a sharp warning to former sister republic Montenegro not to treat the province as a state.


A spokesman for Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said envoy Martti Ahtisaari, a veteran mediator, "certainly did not get a mandate to secretly" give Kosovo away to the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, who are demanding independence this year.


In a statement to Serbia's Beta news agency, spokesman Srdjan Djuric said it was "time for Ahtisaari to give this job to a new international mediator who will stick to the U.N. charter and international law from the beginning".


Any plan "written behind Serbia's back" should be "thrown in the garbage", Djuric said. "No one gave Ahtisaari the right to give away 15 percent of Serbian land."


Diplomats say Ahtisaari, who has mediated 9 months of fruitless talks between Serbia and Kosovo Albanians, recommends imposing a ruling leading to statehood for the province, run by the U.N. since NATO expelled Serb troops in 1999.




Kostunica said on Sunday Montenegro had stabbed Belgrade in the back last week when its outgoing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic hosted Kosovo Albanian Prime Minister Agim Ceku, wanted in Serbia for alleged war crimes.


Calling this "the most direct intrusion" in Serbian affairs, he said: "The Montenegrin government will bear responsibility for serious consequences in relations". Montenegro became independent after dissolving its 90-year partnership with Serbia in June.


Kostunica has said that any state which recognizes an independent Kosovo in future should be aware of the negative impact on its ties with Serbia.


Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic has said that Serbia and Kosovo might co-exist like China and Taiwan, though Serbia did not have anything like the clout China wields to dissuade states from recognizing Taiwan.


Kostunica will soon be engaged in a campaign battle, with a general election date expected any day and his ultranationalist opponents ready to pounce on any perceived weakness on Kosovo.


Serbia may win some breathing space later this week if the Contact Group of six major powers decides to postpone a U.N. decision until after Serbia votes, a move which outgoing U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says is now a real possibility.


Annan says Ahtisaari will stay on, delay or not.


In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey suggested the United States would consider a delay in the U.N. decision but Ahtisaari had not sought this and Washington was still "shooting for" the matter to be settled this year.


"Ultimately ... it's important that we get this right," Casey told reporters. "Obviously, we want to support him (Ahtisaari) and we'd be interested in hearing from him if he believes it (will) require additional time."


NATO powers leading a force of 16,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo are anxious to avoid a long delay which could inflame passions. About 10,000 Albanians were killed by Serb forces in 1998-99 and extremists have often taken revenge on Serbs who still live there in isolated enclaves.


In Belgrade on Monday, Kostunica held talks with party leaders on scheduling the election, but there was no sign of a quick agreement. The ultranationalist Radical Party proposed a date in late January or February, while pro-Western parties favor a ballot as soon as possible, in December.