Territorial integrity wins in Kosovo independence case

The principle of territorial integrity, aided by a Russian veto threat, beat back supporters of independence for Kosovo, which legally remains a Serb province despite eight years of being under UN administration and having severed all ties with Belgrade.

The UN Security Council, in a rare display of respect of that principle, late Friday shelved discussion of a draft resolution that would ultimately have bestowed independence to the majority ethnic Albanian province. Instead, the council sent the issue back to the six-nation Contact Group that promoted it.

Opponents feared that UN support for an independent Kosovo, pushed by Western powers but without Serbia’s backing, would create a precedent that could lead more territories or groups to seek secession on religious or ethnic grounds.

Russia – part of the Contact Group along with the US, France, Britain, Germany and Italy – opposed independence for Kosovo in part out of strong ties with Serbia, but also to affirm the territorial integrity principle in the face of its own battles with separatists in Chechnya.

Russia is also opposed to the break-up from Georgia of the Abkhazia region, where a sizable white Russian population lives.

Serbia, the remnant of the former Yugoslav federation, has offered to grant special autonomy to Kosovo but is determined to keep the province in its territory. Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO warplanes drove out Serb forces accused of repressing ethnic Albanians seeking a separate state.

The other five members of the Contact Group – the US, France, Britain, Italy and Germany – appeared immune to the thorny issue of breaking up a territory without the consent of the central government.

‘The core issue of the dispute in Kosovo is the principle of territorial integrity,’ said Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, a council member. ‘They were trying to convince a sovereign state to give up its province.’

Russia made the point for respecting territorial integrity by pointing out that 20 per cent of its own population are Muslims, who belong in Russia.

‘We believe that all UN Security Council resolutions and the entire body of law are very strong about the principle of territorial integrity, and there is a very strong motivation not to reward aggressive separatism,’ said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

‘If it were allowed to be condoned, it will have very bad international repercussion,’ Churkin said.

China, which holds the council presidency for July, is also opposed to Kosovo independence, as it faces high tensions and clashes with its Muslim population in western and northwestern provinces. It has been accused of crushing separatist campaigns by Muslim Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region, where more than half the population is Uighur. However, China has denied suppression of Islam in Xinjiang.

China also claims Taiwan as one of its provinces and is opposed to the island declaring its independence.

‘Most countries in the world have different ethnic groups,’ said Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya. ‘But those different ethnic groups have to live together in peace based on international law.’

While admitting defeat in the Security Council, envoys from the US, France, Italy, Britain, Belgium and Germany expressed a determination at UN headquarters that negotiations for Kosovo’s independence would continue.

‘We’re committed to an independent Kosovo and we will get there one way or another,’ US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also supports independence. He and the western governments believed that the current status quo cannot be sustained, fearing that Kosovo Albanians, who form 90 percent of the territory’s population, would unilaterally declare independence, causing renewed instability in the Balkans.

Kosovan Prime Minister Agim Ceku Friday suggested that the region proclaim independence on November 28, though there appears to be a disagreement among leaders in Kosovo.

The revised draft resolution shelved by the Security Council, which was written by the Western powers, called Kosovo a unique case that demanded a unique solution, and would not be taken as a precedent against the international law of territorial integrity.

Kosovo is under ‘specific circumstances resulting from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, including the historical context of Yugoslavia’s violent break-up, as well as the massive violence and repression that took place in Kosovo in the period up to and including 1999.’

‘This case shall therefore not be taken as a precedent by the Security Council,’ the draft said.

It had taken former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari 14 months of negotiations to compose the blueprint for Kosovo independence. Belgrade rejected the plan while Pristina approved.

Churkin confirmed that Russia had threatened to veto the draft resolution if it were put to a vote.

Source: Malaysia Sun

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