Serbia warns EU not to send mission to Kosovo

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica warned the European Union on Tuesday that sending a supervisory mission to the breakaway province of Kosovo could damage relations with Serbia.

“Anyone who wants Serbia as a partner has to know Serbia will accept partnership only as a whole country, not as a country cut in two,” Kostunica said in a statement.

Serbia “emphatically rejects in advance an unlawful decision on the arrival of an EU mission” and “expects the EU to respect its stance that a EU mission cannot come to its territory, Kosovo, without a new Security Council resolution,” he said.

The EU is preparing to deploy a 1,600-strong police and justice mission to Kosovo. Western officials are concerned the mainly Serb north of the province will reject their presence.

Belgrade initialed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step towards EU membership, in October.

Serb rhetoric hardened in the run-up to a December 10 deadline for a negotiated deal on Kosovo’s fate. Mediators reported no room for compromise between Serbia’s offer of autonomy and the Kosovo Albanian majority’s demand of independence.

Albanian leaders said on Monday they would start talks with the United States and European Union on declaring independence, likely in early 2008. Washington regards Kosovo independence as the only option for stability in the Balkans.

The EU also seems to be edging to a common position that would allow the bloc to take over supervision of the province.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombed to drive out Serb forces and halt the killing of Albanian civilians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Serbia insists only the U.N. may determine Kosovo’s future and has relied on Russia, a veto holder in the Security Council, to block U.N. recognition.

Analysts say the Kosovo issue has paralyzed the Serb coalition government and is hurting the country’s bid to join the EU, a process already delayed by Belgrade’s failure to arrest war crime suspects from the wars of the 1990s.

Afraid they would be vilified, Kostunica’s moderate partners are adopting hardline positions.

President Boris Tadic, normally seen as a pro-Western liberal, said Serbia would demand an International Court of Justice ruling on any Western recognition of Kosovo, and could launch legal challenges in the U.S. and EU countries.

Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, the man in charge of Serbia’s EU path, also took a tougher line, saying “the EU is not a state” and should not be part of the Kosovo process.”

“Even though 70 percent of Serbs support joining the EU, there is a huge division in the ruling coalition,” said Dusan Janjic of the Forum for Ethnic Relations think-tank.

“Next year will be a year of struggle and discussion, whether to go towards the EU, when and how.”

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