Independent Kosovo would be puppet state: Serb PM

BELGRADE (Reuters) – An independent Kosovo would be a “puppet” of the United States and NATO, Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on Thursday, vowing that Serbia would never give up its breakaway province.

He said independence would “legalize” the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, which Kosovo’s Western backers say was justified to halt the slaughter and ethnic cleansing of thousands of Albanian civilians.

Kostunica’s statement reflected a hardening of rhetoric in Serbia in the countdown to December 10, when international envoys are due to report to the United Nations on the last, failed attempt at mediation between Serbs and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.

U.N.-run Kosovo has rejected a Serb offer of autonomy. It plans to declare independence in early 2008, nine years after NATO bombed Serbia to stop its forces from killing Albanian civilians while battling separatist rebels.

Kosovo expects recognition from the United States and most European Union states, and plans to invite the EU to deploy a mission according to a U.N.-sponsored plan recommending “supervised independence”. The blueprint was blocked by Serbia’s ally Russia earlier this year.

Kostunica said “everybody knows there is no such thing as supervised independence, because supervision and independence are concepts that exclude each other”.

“In recent history, the right name for a supervised state is a puppet state,” he told state news agency Tanjug.

“If the U.S. decides for the Albanian separatists to declare unilateral independence,” it would be clear that NATO had intervened in 1999 to “create a puppet NATO state, where NATO would be the ultimate and highest institution of power,” Kostunica said.

Belgrade would reject any solution not endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, he said. Serbia’s opposition to the EU mission in Kosovo is sure to complicate its bid to join the 27-nation bloc.

Some analysts suggest that a softening of Serbia’s position would earn Brussels’ gratitude, and speed up a membership bid that has been delayed by Belgrade’s failure to arrest war crimes suspects from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

But Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who has made Kosovo the central issue of his premiership, says there can be no trade-off for Serbia’s religious and historical heartland.

He is also under pressure from ultranationalists, who are awaiting an anti-Western backlash to strengthen their position in upcoming presidential elections.

“Serbia should unite … and show that international law should be obeyed,” Aleksandar Vucic of the ultranationalist Radical Party told reporters on Thursday. “We should all unite and show there can be no trade or bargain over Kosovo.

At the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Benedict met Albania’s president Albanian President Bamir Topi, whose country supports the Kosovo Albanian independence drive.

A Vatican statement said the future of Kosovo should consider “the fundamental requests” of all sides, and “any type of recourse to violence should be avoided”.

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