Tuesday, February 06, 2007

KOSOVO: SERBIA REELS FROM SHOCK OF U.N. ENVOY'S PLAN



Belgrade, 5 Feb. (AKI) - Serbian politicians and the public have reacted with shock to top United Nations envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari’s recently unveiled plan for the future of Kosovo which appears to pave the way for the breakaway province's independence. President Boris Tadic called an urgent meeting of leaders of all parliamentary parties on Monday to chart a common stand on the course of action, after he received Ahtisaari’s document in Belgrade on Friday and has signalled he will never accept Kosovo's independence.


Caretaker prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, who refused to see Ahtisaari when he was in Belgrade last Friday, has meanwhile proposed the formation of a "concerted" government, including all parliamentary parties, to demonstrate national unity in the defence of Kosovo. The province has special significance for most Serbs, who consider it the birthplace of their state.


The blueprint allows Kosovo access to international bodies normally reserved for sovereign states, and allows it to raise its own flag, with its own national anthem, while offering guarantees for Serb and other non-Albanian minorities. It was greeted elatedly by Kosovo's overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian majority.


Although Ahtisaari’s proposal was more or less expected, the document nevertheless caused shock and dismay among Serbs that 15 percent of the country’s territory could be forcibly snatched away.


"Even the worst pessimists didn’t expect that Ahtisaari’s plan would be so bad and unacceptable for Serbia,” said prominent political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic. Though the word 'independence' is not directly mentioned in the document, all analysts and politicians agreed that in effect it meant the creation of a new Albanian state on Serbian territory.


Tadic, who like Kostunica has steadfastly opposed Kosovo independence, has nonetheless advocated treading carefully in negotiations with the international community, has said he will never approve the plan. Kostunica, who has repeatedly accused Ahtisaari of anti-Serb bias, claims the former president of Finland has exceeded the mandate given him by the UN.


Ahtisaaris proposal "violates the UN Charter and the principles of the international law on which peace and security in the world rest. That means that Ahtisaari’s proposal is illegitimate," he said. "Based on the constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the parliament now must determine further steps that Serbia will take," he added.


One of the problems is that the outgoing parliament is being dissolved and the new one, elected in a 21 January general election, hasn't yet been constituted. Likewise, Kostunica’s outgoing government claims it doesn’t have a mandate to participate in further negotiations until a new government is formed. Because of disagreements within the four-party 'democratic bloc' analysts believe the country's political forces may be unable to form a governing majority and the elections may have to be re-run.


But according to Ahtisaari’s timetable, he will call for another meeting of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders on 13 February in Vienna, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the opposing sides, before sending his plan to the UN Security Council for approval in March. Serbia has placed great hopes on the permanent Security Council member Russia's veto. But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov over the weekend denied Moscow has ever signalled it would use veto to block Kosovo's independence.


Even the Serbian Orthodox Church intervened with a strong statement, saying Ahtisaari had opted "for might is right, instead of the force of law." The statement said: "Ahtisaari can give away his own property to whomever he chooses, but no one ever authorised him to give away Kosovo."


"A peaceful future can’t be built on the right of the stronger, on the dictates of naked force, but only on respect of the principle that all should have the same dignity and equal opportunities," the statement continued.


Zoran Loncar, a minister in Kostunica’s outgoing government, said that Serbia was exposed to a “brutal snatching away of its territory”, as well as to “various pressures and blackmail," of which Ahtisaari as the author. "What Ahtisaari is doing is the worst of evils, and it is best for all to reject his paper immediately, instead of wasting our future on the removal of this evil,” he concluded.


European officials have hinted that Serbia’s drive to join the EU might depend on the degree of cooperation over Kosovo. But after Ahtisaari’s proposal, many ordinary Serbs have been saying: "To to hell with the European Union."


Belgrade daily Press summarised these sentiments with a front page banner that read: "No Way!" Daily Kurir concurred by saying “Europe, get lost!” and a front page picture pointing a middle finger towards the EU.


Most of Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing less than independence for the province. It has been under UN control since 1999 when NATO airstrikes drove out Serb forces amid ethnic fighting and gross human rights abuses.(Vpr/Aki)

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