09 July 2007

Serb parties close ranks against Kosovo breakaway

Reuters, 14 Feb 2007 11:03:09 GMT By Beti Bilandzic


(Adds details, quotes, edits throughout)


BELGRADE, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Serbian political parties meet on Wednesday to close ranks against a United Nations envoy's proposal that would propel the breakaway province of Kosovo towards independence this year.


The first session of a new Serbian parliament after an inconclusive Jan. 21 election will debate a resolution on Kosovo that rejects a plan by envoy Martti Ahtisaari giving the province independence in all but name.


The draft resolution says the Serbian Parliament rejects all points of the plan "which violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia".


Analysts said the resolution was a fig leaf meant to spread blame across all parties for the inevitable loss of the province.


Wrangling among pro-Western parties is delaying the formation of a coalition government. The West wants Belgrade to authorise a delegation to negotiate in last-ditch talks on Kosovo, hosted by Ahtisaari next week in Vienna.


"Vienna will be the last opportunity to really talk," said Tomislav Nikolic, deputy head of the ultranationalist Radicals which came first in the election.


"(Our) negotiating team will be authorised by this resolution and be instructed to respond to Ahtisaari's plan."


Kosovo's Albanian majority has demanded its own state since 1999 when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing civilians while fighting separatist guerrillas. The U.N. has run Kosovo since 1999.


"United against Ahtisaari's plan," was the headline in top-selling daily Blic. "The envoy's proposal violates the basic principles of international law," said Vecernje Novosti.


The resolution said "imposed independence" for Kosovo would have unforeseeable consequences, would destabilise the region and "represent an exceptionally dangerous precedent for resolving minority issues and territorial disputes" globally.


The wording must satisfy parties which are lumped together in the "pro-Western" camp but hold different views on Kosovo.


Outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica wants to curtail ties with states that recognise Kosovo as independent. The Democrats of President Boris Tadic oppose this because it would alienate the United States and European Union.




Under the Ahtisaari plan, an international envoy will take over supervision of Kosovo for a transition period and the EU would deploy a police mission alongside the current 16,500-strong NATO peace force.


Former U.S. ambassador to Serbia, William Montgomery, says Serbian leaders determined to "save" Kosovo believe they must remain united to count on Russian support and a Russian veto of any independence resolution in the Security Council.


The aim of Wednesday's vote "will be to lock virtually all parties into the process" to ensure they share equal blame for Kosovo's loss, he wrote in the daily Danas at the weekend.


Even united, Serbia has small hope of blocking independence.


Ahtisaari told Le Monde on Friday a four-month transition would begin after a U.N. resolution "if there is one". Kosovo's leaders would draw up a constitution on strict U.N. guidelines, the U.N. mandate would end and the EU would take over.


At that point, he said: "I assume...Kosovars will declare their independence and it will be recognised. I don't have a date in mind, but I do think things will go very quickly."