Canada opposes Kosovo independence

By Peter O’Neil
CanWest News Service
December 17, 2007
Canada, fearful of stepping into the political minefield of Quebec nationalist politics, is remaining on the sidelines as the U.S. and Europe debate Kosovo’s expected unilateral declaration of independence in early 2008, say analysts.

Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier, at a meeting of western allies in Scotland Friday, wouldn’t be drawn into the potential crisis in the Balkans if Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority wins a sovereign homeland over the vehement objections of Serbia and its key ally, Russia.

“We won’t speak today about a unilateral declaration of independence,” Bernier told reporters during a conference call.

The U.S. and Canada’s major European allies favour independence for the breakaway Serbian province.

Several countries dealing with domestic separatist movements – Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus and Romania are most often cited – are uneasy about Kosovo independence, said Osvaldo Croci, a political scientist at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld.

“For Canada the issue is even more sensitive. If Kosovo acquires independence on the basis of national determination why could not the Serb villages on the border choose to stay with Serbia?” said Croci, co-author of the 2006 book The Transatlantic Divide: Foreign and security policies in the Atlantic Alliance from Kosovo to Iraq, in an e-mail interview.

That would in turn set a clear precedent for Canada.

“If Quebec separates, why could not the Eastern townships and part of the Island of Montreal do the same from Quebec?”

Former separatist Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau revealed after his movement’s narrow 1995 referendum loss that he would have made a unilateral declaration of independence had the vote gone in his favour.

The Canadian government later passed the Clarity Act to set tough new terms in the event of a Yes vote in a referendum, while some minority communities in Quebec argued that they have the right to remain in Canada if Quebec leaves.

Kosovo specialist Robert Austin said Canada faces a “conundrum” over Kosovo and is likely trying to figure out what position to take.

“But I would highly doubt Canada would be willing to recognize Kosovo” as an independent country unless there was a UN resolution, which is unlikely if not impossible because of Russia’s objections, said Austin.

Bernier said Canada remains a firm supporter of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1244, which was passed in 1999 after allied bombing drove out Serbian forces who were repressing the ethnic Albanian majority in the province.

While the resolution authorizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to keep 16,000 troops in Kosovo, the resolution also reaffirms “the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the other States of the region.” FRY was the name of the loose federation of Serbia and Montenegro, though Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia after a referendum last year.

In Brussels, European Union leaders agreed Friday to send a police and justice mission of around 1,800 personnel, as well as a civilian office, to deploy to Kosovo if requested by the UN.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, was asked whether the mission meant that the EU backed Kosovo’s independence.

“No, what we are doing at the moment is undertaking negotiations in the (United Nations) Security Council.”

The mission would help ease the southern province’s transition of power from the UN administration, which has been in place since 1999, to the local authorities.

It was meant to be part of a solution proposed by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who recommended that the province be granted “independence supervised by the international community”, a proposal rejected by Serbia.

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