22 January 2007

Kosovo independence a 'nightmare' for Serbia

Financial Times, UK, Updated: 5:41 p.m. ET Nov. 23, 2006 By Tom Burgis in Brussels
Independence for Kosovo would visit a "nightmare" on Serbia's government by bolstering supporters of the late dictator Slobadan Milosevic, the country's foreign minister has warned.

Vuk Draskovic said the centre-right administration could be outflanked by nationalists if the final status of the province is imposed on Belgrade by the international community.

"I am very afraid of the consequences of an imposed solution," Mr Draskovic told the Financial Times in an interview. "It will strengthen the hands of the [ultra-nationalist] Radicals. This is my nightmare." There was already pressure to cut ties with any state that recognises an independent Kosovo, he said.

Kosovo has been a ward of the United Nations since Nato troops drove Serb forces from the Albanian-dominated province in 1999. Martti Ahtisaari, the UN's special envoy to Kosovo, has delayed making his recommendations on the province's future until early next year after Belgrade called snap elections for January. In October, Serbs voted to adopt a new constitution describing Kosovo as an "intergral part" of the nation.

Mr Draskovic said there remained time to find a compromise solution that would see Kosovo gain full autonomy but remain within Serbian territory without the right to join Nato or the UN.

However, the Contact Group of nations marshalling negotiations has promised a solution "acceptable to the people of Kosovo". One Western diplomat said yesterday that "any Belgrade proposal offering autonomy is unlikely to fulfil that".

Belgrade argues that allowing the 2m Kosovans - among them 100,000 Serbs - to secede would set a precedent. "An imposed solution will have to respect the right to self-determination of Kosovans," Mr Draskovic said. "But what happens when the next day the Serbs in Bosnia say: 'We also want to use that right'?" Separatists in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Taiwan might follow suit, he added.

In a meeting with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato secretary general, in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Draskovic will demand unconditional Serbian entry to a Partnership for Peace cooperation agreement. A pact with the treaty body could hasten the arrest of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic by demonstrating to his supporters that "they have lost the battle for the future", Mr Draskovic said. However, Nato has made Serbian compliance with the tribunal a precondition of partnership.

The European Union has frozen talks with Belgrade on an accession agreement, widely seen as a waystation to membership, while Mr Mladic - wanted by the UN's war crimes tribunal for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre - remains at large.