05 June 2007

Serbian FM warns Serbia could destabilize Europe if Kosovo becomes independent

Associated Press, Wednesday, February 07, 2007 9:39 AM


BELGRADE, Serbia-The foreign minister warned on Wednesday that Serbia could again become a source of instability in Europe if Kosovo becomes independent against Belgrade's will.


Vuk Draskovic's remarks came as senior European Union officials visited Belgrade to urge the formation of a pro-democracy government that would reconsider its outright rejection of an U.N. plan for Kosovo that offers the breakaway province virtual statehood.


In return, the EU could offer Serbia a quick resumption of pre-membership talks, suspended last year over Belgrade's failure to arrest Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Gen. Ratko Mladic and hand him over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.


"Serbia is now the source of stability in the Balkans," Draskovic said after meeting with Britain's Europe Minister Geoff Hoon. "It is necessary to avoid an imposed solution (for Kosovo) that could cause Serbia to (again) become a factor of instability."


Before arriving in Belgrade, EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana visited Kosovo's capital, Pristina, where he urged ethnic Albanians to remain calm as the process to solve the province's future enters what is expected to be the final round of negotiations.


"I expect from you at this moment responsibility, calm and hard work," Solana told Kosovo Albanian leaders. "Nothing will be done for you, you have to do it."


Solana, along with the bloc's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, arrived in Belgrade later Wednesday.


EU officials hope a Serbian new government would abandon an outright rejection of the U.N. plan for Kosovo, which envisages that the breakaway southern province be granted internationally supervised self-rule with the trappings of statehood, including its own army and constitution.


"Serbia is the largest and the most populous country on the Balkans, and we know that there is no final solution" for Kosovo without Serbia, Steinmeier said. "We will underline once again our expectations that Serbia will stick to its European perspective."


The formation of a new government is crucial for whether the troubled Balkan country continues on its pro-European path, or returns to its years of defiance and international isolation as during the rule of late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, during his Balkan war campaigns.


Forming a government has been held up by disagreement over who should be the next prime minister.


Outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a nationalist, insists on retaining his job, while the pro-Western Democratic Party, which emerged as the strongest within the reformist bloc after the Sept. 21 elections, wants the top post for their candidate.


Kostunica has left open a possibility of forming a coalition government with the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, which won the most votes in the election and had ruled Serbia together with Milosevic in the 1990s.


That would doom Serbia's pre-membership talks with the European Union. Serbian officials have expressed hope that if a pro-democracy government is formed soon, negotiations with the EU would resume even if Mladic is not immediately handed over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.


Some EU officials have said this would be possible, but that the final aid and trade Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia could be signed only when Mladic, who has been indicted for genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnia war, is handed over to the tribunal.