Russia, China Back Serbia Over Kosovo

The U.N. Security Council will meet Monday to discuss Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia amid bitter divisions over the future of the Balkan territory.

Serbian President Boris Tadic is expected to address the council, which held emergency talks a day earlier, on the decision his country bitterly opposes.

While favored by the West, Security Council members Russia and China have expressed outright opposition and “grave concern” over Kosovo’s unilateral decision, warning of a possible return to conflict in the region.

“Our concern is for the safety of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo,” Moscow’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin said on Sunday.

“Our position is that this declaration should be disregarded by the international community,” as well as by the head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, Churkin added.

In Beijing Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao expressed grave concern over Kosovo move for independence.

“Kosovo’s unilateral act can produce a series of results that will lead to seriously negative influence on peace and stability in the Balkan region …” Liu said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency. He called on Kosovo and Serbia to seek a solution under international law.

Fireworks lit the skies and crowds filled the streets of Kosovo’s capital Sunday after the territory’s parliament declared independence from Serbia.

“The day has come,” Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former separatist guerrilla leader, told his parliament. “From this day onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free.”

The province has been under U.N. administration and patrolled by NATO troops since a 1999 bombing campaign that halted a Serb-led campaign against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.

Thousands of people swarmed Pristina’s streets ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary declaration, singing, dancing and holding signs in freezing wind after the vote was announced. But Serbs consider the territory the cradle of their civilization, and protesters clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade as the declaration was issued.

Serbia said it will not oppose independence with violence, but Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his country will never accept the establishment of a “false country” on its territory.

“Anything and everything that we couldn’t achieve today will be obtained by new generations of Serbian people in the future,” Kostunica said Sunday in a televised address.

Citizens of Serbia, we have to come together and show the whole world that we do not acknowledge the creation of a false state in our territory. The violence that has been perpetrated upon Serbia is very obvious.”

Russia expressed similar concerns at Sunday’s emergency Security Council meeting in New York.

“Our concern is for the safety of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo,” Churkin stated, adding that Russia will “strongly warn against any attempts at repressive measures should Serbs in Kosovo decide not to comply with this unilateral proclamation of independence.”

About 100,000 Serbs still live in Kosovo, making up about 5 percent of the population, and Kostunica said Serbs have been killed or lost their land in the eight-plus years the country has been under international rule. But Fatmir Sejdiu, the nascent republic’s president, pledged to create a nation “where all citizens of all ethnicities feel appreciated.”

“Today is probably a day of trepidation for some of you, but your property and your rights will be respected in the future,” he said.

Former U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who led the NATO alliance during the 1999 conflict, said “There was no way beyond moving to this step.” But he urged the international community to work with Serbia to keep the country moving toward integration with Europe and “to help them understand their situation.”

“I’m very sad that the Serbs are unable to understand what’s happened,” Clark told CNN. “But the magnitude of Serb repression of the Albanian majority there and the violence that accompanied the ethnic cleansing in 1998 and 1999 was just so overwhelming that I think the Serb people have to understand that the Albanians themselves have to have this separation.”

Thaci said Kosovo’s declaration of independence “marks the end of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia,” which triggered years of bloodshed across the Balkans.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic launched a crackdown against ethnic Albanian insurgents led by Thaci in 1998 and refused to yield to Western pressure to halt the campaign. When NATO responded by launching airstrikes against Serbia and Montenegro, the last remaining Yugoslav republics, Yugoslav troops drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovars out of the region and killed thousands more.

Milosevic died in 2005 while awaiting trial for war crimes before a U.N. tribunal in The Hague.

The United States and leading European nations, including France, Britain and Germany, have supported Kosovo’s move toward independence. But Russia, the Serbs’ historical ally, has opposed independence, fearing it would incite other separatist movements in its backyard.

But no country supported the Russian call for the U.N. to declare Sunday’s declaration “null and void,” said Sir John Sawers, the British ambassador to the world body.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all parties “to refrain from any actions or statements that could endanger peace, incite violence or jeopardize security in Kosovo and the region.”

The European Union decided Saturday to launch a mission of about 2,000 police and judicial officers to replace the U.N. mission that has controlled the province since 1999. And U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States had “noted” that Kosovo had declared its independence and was reviewing the issue.

Source: ASINA

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