02 April 2007

EU foreign ministers to discuss future of Kosovo after key Serbian elections

Associated Press, Sunday, January 21, 2007 7:15 PM


BRUSSELS, Belgium-European Union foreign ministers will assess the results of Serbian elections at talks Monday to examine the future status of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo and closer EU ties with Belgrade.


Serbs voted Sunday in closely contested parliamentary elections between pro-Western parties and ultranationalists. Preliminary official results were expected on Monday.


EU officials had called on Serbs to vote for a moderate government which would push ahead with democratic and economic reforms and fully cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.


The vote will affect how a compromise is reached on the future status of Kosovo, which has been under U.N. administration since 1999.


In the election, the ultranationalist Radicals won most votes but several pro-democratic groups combined won enough to form a new government if they can settle their differences.


The Radicals, who ruled Serbia with Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, gathered about 29 percent of the vote, followed by the pro-Western Democratic Party with 23 percent and the ruling center-right Popular Coalition with 17 percent, said CESID, an independent polling group, citing its own vote count at Serbian polling stations.


Much anticipated proposals by U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari on Kosovo were delayed until after the elections.


German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the EU presidency, and other EU officials said last week that stability and security in the Balkans is a priority, notably working closely with Belgrade to find a peaceful solution to Kosovo's status.


"These elections present an important opportunity for Serbia, to look ahead and fully embrace its European future," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said last week. He added the EU "hopes to see" a pro-EU, reform government in Belgrade.


EU officials expect Ahtisaari to recommend limited independence for Kosovo, which has been under U.N. administration since 1999.


Diplomats said however they expect lengthy debates with Russia over Kosovo's future at the U.N. Security Council, which will make the final decision on the province's future. Moscow strongly backs Belgrade's claims that Kosovo should stay part of Serbia while Washington favors independence.


The EU itself is divided over Kosovo between countries that oppose any secession, including Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia, and those that have backed it, such as Britain, the Netherlands and others.


Belgrade has insisted that Kosovo must remain part of Serbia, albeit with wide-ranging autonomy. But ethnic Albanian politicians in the provincial capital, Pristina, are pushing for outright independence.


A move to declare Kosovo independent would have widespread international implications and would be regarded as a precedent in other independence-minded provinces or regions elsewhere in the world.


EU foreign ministers were also to address the ongoing conflicts in Darfur and Somalia and assess peace efforts in the Middle East. Iran, and ties with Ukraine were to be discussed as well.