Serbia considers retaliatory steps against West if Kosovo breaks free

Posted in Europe | 27-Dec-07 | Source: International Herald Tribune

Grafitti in Belgrade on Wednesday that reads "No to NATO." Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also lashed out at the United States.

BELGRADE:

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica condemned the United States on Wednesday for supporting the independence of Kosovo as Parliament debated a measure that would sever diplomatic ties with Western countries that recognized the province's statehood.

"America is openly striving for the destruction of the international order," Kostunica said in Parliament. "America, which once seemed like a symbol of freedom, now advocates the policies of force."

The measure in Parliament, proposed by Kostunica's government, rejects the idea of the European Union's setting up a mission in Kosovo before the status of the breakaway province is resolved. The resolution threatens to halt Serbian integration into the European Union if Kosovo gains statehood, and denounces NATO and the West for their alleged support of separatists in Kosovo.

If adopted, the measure would oblige Serbian officials to reject Kosovo's independence and would almost certainly lead to further deterioration of Serbia's relations with the West.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the two million people in Kosovo, have said they will proclaim independence early in 2008.

The United States and several EU countries have said they will recognize Kosovo's independence because the province has not been under Serbian control since 1999, when NATO intervened to stop a military crackdown against separatists.

Serbia, backed by Russia, insists that Kosovo remain a part of its territory and has urged more negotiations with the Kosovo Albanians.

Kostunica accused the U.S. of blocking efforts to find a compromise through its open support of Kosovo's independence.

"The United States has decided that there could be no more talks," Kostunica said. "America decided that the problem, which the UN Security Council started to solve, must be solved outside the council."

The Serbian president, Boris Tadic, was more moderate in his speech, saying the country must strive to keep Kosovo, but it should not give up "its European future" in the effort.

The resolution says Serbia must "reconsider" diplomatic ties with Western countries that recognize Kosovo's statehood. It says that, because of NATO's alleged support for Kosovo independence, Serbia must remain outside the Western military alliance.

The document also said the possible signing of a pre-membership trade-and-aid deal with the European Union in January "must be in the function of preserving the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic said in Parliament that his Radicals, the biggest group in Parliament, would support the resolution if it guaranteed that Serbia would not sign the so-called EU Stabilization and Association Agreement unless the agreement explicitly specified that Kosovo was part of Serbian territory.

"Our fight for Kosovo is the fight for the state borders," Nikolic said.

The leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, who does not oppose Kosovo's independence, said the resolution represented "a blow to Serbia's ambitions to become a EU member."

Jovanovic accused Tadic and Kostunica of turning Serbia into a "training ground for the conflict between Russia and America, from which they will see no harm, but Serbia will."

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