Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Serbia: Government in doubt after premier rejects proposed EU deal

Belgrade, 5 Feb. (AKI) – Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica on Tuesday rejected a European Union proposal to sign a political agreement with Belgrade easing trade and visa restriction as a "deception".

"The political agreement that the EU has proposed while it deploys a mission to dismember our country is a deception ... by signing, Serbia would indirectly recognise the independence of Kosovo," Kostunica said.

Belgrade opposes Kosovo independence and its ally Russia has blocked the move in the UN Security Council.

The EU's 27 member states agreed on Monday to send a mission to the breakaway Kosovo province to replace the current UN administration (UNMIK). EU foreign ministers are expected to decide a mission launch date on 18 February.

“The EU decision to illegally send a mission to Kosovo to implement the rejected Ahtisaari plan for independence represents a sure sign that Albanian separatists will soon unilaterally declare independence of the province,” Kostunica said.

He was referring to a plan for EU-supervised independence unveiled last year by top UN envoy to Kosovo, Maarti Ahtisaari.

“By this decision, the EU has directly threatened sovereignty, territorial integrity and the constitutional order of Serbia,” Kostunica added.

He called for an urgent session of parliament to “make necessary decisions on EU mission and the proposal offered by the EU”.

The EU last week offered Serbia a “political agreement” instead of the crucial agreement on pre-entry talks, to boost pro-western president Boris Tadic’s re-election campaign.

The EU states that the Netherlands and Belgium blocked the signing of the agreement's on pre-entry talks, insisting that Serbia should first apprehend and hand over four fugitive suspects for trial at the UN's Hague war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The fugitives include wartime Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his general, Ratko Mladic.

But the battered Serbian government coalition showed new fracture lines on Tuesday over the EU's proposed political deal ahead of Kosovo independence.

Vice-premier Bozidar Djelic, a member of Tadic’s centre-left Democratic Party (DS), who like the president, has insisted that Serbia should proceed towards the EU, regardless of Kosovo fate's. He said he would go to Brussels on Thursday to sign the political deal with the EU.

Tadic’s political block has 17 ministers in the 25-minister government, compared with Kostunica’s eight, and the prime minister runs the risk of being outvoted by his own cabinet.

If that were to happen, Kostunica would have no choice but to resign and call an early parliamentary election, prominent Belgrade analyst Djordje Vukadinovic said.

Kostunica has said that any agreement should be ratified in parliament, where he could defeat it with the support of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, whose candidate Tomislav Nikolic was narrowly defeated by Tadic in Sunday's election.

But Tadic insists there is no need for parliamentary approval, because the deal with the EU only benefits Serbia as it brings no obligations for the Balkan country.

Kostunica’s close ally and coalition partner, Velimir Ilic, said no deal should be signed without prior parliamentary approval. He said signing a deal with the EU “would be a signature for Kosovo's independence. Should Serbia be the first to sign it,” he asked.

Ilic said Thursday would be a decisive day for the government's future. “If the DS insists on signing the agreement, then everything is possible,” Ilic concluded.

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