10 July 2007

Serbia's new parliament condemns Kosovo plan

Agence France Presse, 14 février 2007 21:25


BELGRADE, Feb 14, 2007 (AFP)


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Serbia's newly elected parliament overwhelmingly voted on Wednesday to condemn a UN plan on the future of its breakaway province of Kosovo as a violation of the country's territorial integrity.


After a lenghty debate, 225 of 244 deputies present at the session voted to adopt the outgoing government's resolution condemning UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal for the future status of Kosovo.


Fifteen deputies were against the resolution while the others abstained from voting.


Voting for the resolution, the parliament also adopted a platform for Belgrade's position in final talks starting next week on Kosovo, the southern Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority impatient for independence.


Ahtisaari presented his plan to Belgrade and Pristina on February 2, after almost a year of fruitless negotiations between the two sides.


The parliament also verified a mandate for Belgrade's negotiating team, expected to meet for talks with Pristina representatives and UN officials next week in Vienna.


Ahtisaari's plan, which avoids the word independence but offers Kosovo self-governance and the right to join international organisations, has been welcomed by the province's ethnic Albanian leaders.


The Serbian resolution says, however, that it "violates basic principles of international law as it does not respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia."


Analyst Cedomir Antic however warned that such principles in the resolution were "senseless" as Serbia's team would take part in UN-led talks in Vienna.


"Both the authorities and the opposition actually do not want to share responsibility and guilt for everything that has happened in Kosovo," Antic told private B92 television.


During the debate, speaker after speaker addressed the assembly in a notably solemn session about the province that Serbs consider their country's historic heartland.


"To accept this proposal ... would be contrary to the constitution," said Serbian President Boris Tadic, who has already admitted the plan paves the way for Kosovo's independence.


But Tadic said he was "convinced that Serbia should participate in the Vienna talks," despite Belgrade's opposition to Ahtisaari's plan.


Kosovo has been managed by a UN mission since mid-1999, when three months of bombing by NATO ended a crackdown by Serbian forces loyal to then president Slobodan Milosevic on the province's ethnic Albanians.


The resolution, which was proposed by the outgoing government of moderate nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, sought Kosovo negotiations "without pressure and artificially imposed deadlines."


"Serbia offers the Albanian minority the highest degree of autonomy," Kostunica said in parliament.


"Those who reject that wish to dismantle Serbia, and should be aware that they will be responsible for the consequences of this act," he warned without elaborating.


Serbia, which lost four wars in the 1990s, is clinging to the hope that its traditional ally Russia will use its veto to block any UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo's independence.


Ahtisaari has said he expects Kosovo's status to be settled well before the end of June, despite delays caused by the Serbian elections and a referendum on a constitution that declares Kosovo an "integral" part of the country.


The international community fears any further delays could spark violence in the province, where tensions are high after two pro-independence ethnic Albanian protestors were killed in weekend clashes with police.