Monday, February 05, 2007

Serbs dither as ground shifts on Kosovo

By Ellie Tzortzi

9:22 a.m. February 5, 2007
BELGRADE – Serbian leaders dithered over Kosovo on Monday as diplomatic support for their rejection of an independence plan for the breakaway province appeared to wilt with an unexpected warning from Russia to be 'constructive'.

With a clear Serbian position on Kosovo's future complicated by internal political rivalries, a sudden chill wind came from Moscow, which Belgrade had always assumed would stop an international drive for Kosovo independence.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a weekend comment suggested it was by no means certain that Russia would use its veto in the U.N. Security Council to block independence.

Serbian party chiefs summoned by President Boris Tadic to thrash out a coherent response to the Kosovo plan of U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari agreed Tadic should attend talks in Vienna next week – but only to say that Serbia was not ready to talk.

No party won an outright majority in Serbia's general election two weeks ago. Parliament has not been convened and, hamstrung by wrangling over the Kosovo plan presented last Friday, no new coalition is even close to being formed.

'The only holder of executive power, the only legitimate institution in the country at this moment is the president of Serbia. And if we don't have any other body, then it is his responsibility,' said Vladeta Jankovic of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)

'We wouldn't have anything against him going to Vienna and temporarily representing Serbia's position...'

Tadic and Kostunica are rivals for power with different approaches to the looming loss of Kosovo. Tadic received Ahtisaari when he presented his plan. Kostunica snubbed him.

A Tadic statement on Monday said the new parliament should be constituted immediately, with a debate on Ahtisaari's plan, an agreed Serbian response and a newly-mandated negotiating team as its first order of business.

Local media reports said some parties proposed appealing to the U.N. for more time, while others urged convening the outgoing parliament in emergency session in order to renew the mandate of the old Kosovo negotiating team.


Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO bombing led by the United States forced late strongman Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw troops accused of killing 10,000 Albanians during a counter-insurgency war with separatists.

The Albanians, who demand independence, make up 90 percent of the population of two million in the impoverished province, cherished by Serbs as the cradle of their nation.

While it has been clear for months that Ahtisaari would not back a Serb demand to resume sovereignty over Kosovo, 'Belgrade has managed to enter the last phase of talks on the future status of Kosovo without a parliament, without a government and without a negotiating team,' the liberal daily Danas commented.

Kostunica had assured Serbs that Russia had promised to block Kosovo's independence in the Security Council. But Lavrov threw this into doubt, saying at the weekend: 'President Vladimir Putin has never said he would use Moscow's veto...over Kosovo.'

On Monday, Serbia's Blic daily cited government sources as saying Russia was warning Kostunica that 'if Serbia rejects everything, Russia will not support it, on the grounds that it is not being constructive'.

U.S. envoy Frank Wisner, visiting Kosovo, said Washington 'believes this is an excellent proposal (that) deserves full support' and he was going to Moscow to secure Russia's backing.

Russia is a member of the six-power Contact Group along with Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, which has collectively set policy on Kosovo since 1999.

'I will be making the point that what was begun together should end together,' the American diplomat said. > News > World -- Serbs dither as ground shifts on Kosovo

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