Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Serbia: Leaders unite to counter Kosovo independence

Belgrade, 12 Feb.(AKI) - Serbian president Boris Tadic and premier Vojislav Kostunica have united to counter a declaration of independence by the breakaway Kosovo province, expected to be proclaimed by majority ethnic Albanians on Sunday.

After a meeting Monday night, the two leaders released a statement in which they have agreed to "conduct unified national policy to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia in the face of a real threat of declaration of independence".

Though both leaders oppose Kosovo independence, Kostunica and Tadic are split on the issue of whether Serbia should proceed towards joining the European Union, if Brussels recognises Kosovo as an independent state.

Serbia’s ally Russia has blocked Kosovo's independence move in the UN Security Council, but Washington and most EU countries support the move. The EU is preparing to send a mission to Kosovo to implement an independence plan forged by former UN negotiator Martti Ahtisaari.

Tadic has insisted Belgrade should proceed with EU membership regardless of Kosovo's fate, but Kostunica has refused to sign a “political agreement” with Brussels unless it guarantees Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo.

In what appeared to be a backdown by Tadic, Monday's agreement made no reference to an EU document, and instead focused on measures to be taken against a possible independence move by Kosovo.

Tadic called a meeting of the national security council for Monday and Kostunica planned a government session for Thursday to consider measures to be taken.

It was agreed that the government should adopt a decision to "annul the illegal act" of proclamation of independence and pass it on to the parliament for approval.

The government has approved an action plan in case of a proclamation of independence, but the details have remained secret.

The Kosovar parliament is expected to declare independence on Sunday, while the Serbian parliament would annul it immediately at its own session, government officials said.

Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), who narrowly lost the presidential election to Tadic on 3 February, welcomed the agreement between Kostunica and Tadic.

But he said it came too late and the disunity had encouraged the supporters of Kosovar independence.

“I think we have encouraged Albanians, Americans and the EU too much, and have practically opened the door to Kosovo independence,” Nikolic said.

"Now we will have to take hot chestnuts from the fire," he added.

Belgrade has threatened “diplomatic action” against countries which recognise Kosovo, but vowed to refrain from using force.

Another measure being considered was a possible embargo against Kosovo, but analysts said none of these acts could change the current course of events.

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