Serbia says U.S. holds key to Balkan stability

A3095453.jpgBELGRADE (Reuters) – The United States alone can choose whether the Balkans experience stability or lawlessness, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on Friday, after the failure of negotiations with Kosovo Albanians.Washington can either continue to back eventual independence for the breakaway province of Kosovo or uphold a United Nations resolution which affirms Serbian sovereignty, he said.

“The stability and peace of the whole region now depends on a U.S. decision whether it will respect U.N. Resolution 1244 or will opt for a gross violation of the resolution and the UN Charter,” he told Serbia’s Beta news agency.

Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999, authorizes U.N. administration of the province under NATO security, which began that year after the Western alliance drove out Serb forces to end a ruthless crackdown on Albanian separatists.

The resolution affirms the sovereignty of now defunct Yugoslavia, of which Serbia is the successor state.

The United States is not alone in viewing independence as the only viable option for Kosovo, whose 90 percent Albanian population has demanded a clean break with Serbia for the past eight years, following a war which cost over 10,000 lives.

The great majority of the EU’s 27-member states also support statehood if no compromise can be reached with Serbia.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during a news conference in Nice on Friday with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, said no one wanted to humiliate Serbia or challenge its main big power backer, Russia.

“The Kosovars will have their independence. The Serbs must understand that it’s about neighbors, and that they have to live together,” he said. “We would like it to happen at the opportune time…when no one feels humiliated. Because what we want is peace between the Kosovars and the Serbs.”


But referring to the legal problems inherent in independence with U.N. endorsement, Sarkozy said French and other NATO troops keeping the peace in Kosovo need clarity, and if further talks can achieve it, Paris is not opposed.

“We don’t want our soldiers…in an inextricable legal situation,” he said. “If we have to give ourselves a few more weeks to cool things down…, France believes that is preferable to considering that December 10 at 2400, everything has to stop.”

The date is the deadline for a report to the U.N. by U.S., Russian and EU mediators who wound up their mission in Baden, Austria after four months of talks capped by a three-day conference which ended in total deadlock.

The U.S. and EU say the mediation process ends then.

But Kostunica said “compromise would be certainly found which would satisfy crucial interests of both Serbs and Albanians” if only Washington affirmed Serbian sovereignty.

“It is clear that all responsibility lies with America and its choice between law and stability, on one hand, and lawlessness and long-term instability on the other,” he said.

The failure of the Baden conference, while no surprise, has rung alarm bells in Western capitals. The three mediators will visit Serbia and Kosovo for the last time on Monday.

Serbia dismisses reports it might take military action if Kosovo Albanians declare independence early next year as they have pledged to do, in coordination with Western backers. But it is drafting an “action plan” which includes punitive measures.

Major powers involved in peace-making in the Balkans since 1992 are concerned Kosovo Serbs would break away from Kosovo in their turn, and that Bosnian Serbs might demand the right to secede from their union with Bosnian Croats and Muslims.

The West believes that if independence were refused, violence would erupt in Kosovo, spilling over into ethnically divided Macedonia, and south Serbia, as it did in 2000 and 2001.

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