May 30, 2006

Independence for Kosovo means trouble, Serbia says

By Douglas Hamilton

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Granting independence to Serbia's
southern province of Kosovo against the will of Serbia would
destabilize the Balkans, Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk
Draskovic warned on Tuesday.

The United Nations is mediating talks on Kosovo's future
status, which Western diplomats say are likely to conclude with
a form of independence by the end of the year. Serbia is
adamantly opposed to such an outcome.

"I am very afraid of the possible imposed solution against
the will of Belgrade of turning Kosovo into a state," Draskovic
told a news conference. "The whole region, I think, would
inevitably face turbulence."

The warning comes in the wake of Montenegro's vote on May
21 to end its union with Serbia, which the European Union at
one point opposed, fearing further fragmentation in the

On Monday there were signs this fear was not unjustified,
as Serb nationalists seeking independence for the Bosnian Serb
republic from Bosnia took the Montenegro referendum as a
precedent and possible template for their own campaign.

Legally, the cases of Kosovo, Montenegro, and the Bosnian
Serb Republic are quite different. But Draskovic was warning
that if nationalist feelings were injured, the legalities might
be ignored.

Kosovo has been policed by NATO's largest peacekeeping
force and run by the United Nations since 1999, when a bombing
war by the Western allies drove Serb forces out of the province
to halt killings and ethnic cleansing by Belgrade in its war
against ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas.

Kosovo's population of 2 million is 90 percent Albanian.
They are impatient after years in limbo and want independence
this year.

Draskovic, in a speech, warned indirectly that granting
independence over Belgrade's head could bring ultranationalists
to power and turn Serbia against the European Union.

"The European lights in Serbia may be extinguished only by
a forcible decision to declare an internationally recognized
state of Kosovo within ... the borders of Serbia," he said.

Creating "yet another Albanian state in the Balkans" was a
"dangerous scenario" that Serbia hopes will be "thwarted."


Belgrade is now proposing a 20-year agreement on Kosovo to
be guaranteed by Serbia and the United Nations. It would have a
constitution and would run its internal affairs independently.

But Serbia would retain control over foreign policy,

borders and customs, human rights, monetary policy and the
protection of cultural and religious heritage.

Western diplomats say the Serbian government is in denial,
unable or unwilling to grasp the realities of the Kosovo
situation and the will of 90 percent of its people.

Warnings of an unpredictable Balkan domino effect were
being revived after Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in a
joint state union, voted in a referendum to go its own way.

Its independence dissolves what was left of Yugoslavia,
which broke up in war in the 1990s. Montenegro was one of six
federal republics, with a legal right to secession which it
retained in the looser Serbia-Montenegro union that was formed
with EU encouragement in 2003.

Regardless of that legality, however, nationalist Serbs in
neighboring Bosnia see Montenegro as an encouragement to push
their own campaign for an independence referendum for Republika
Srpska, one of Bosnia's two constituent parts.

The demand was firmly rejected on Monday by Western
officials, who warned the major powers would not tolerate any
threat to Bosnia's sovereignty and integrity as a state.