EU condemns violent Muslim Albanian rioting in Kosovo

February 12, 2007 12:15 PM

BRUSSELS, Belgium-European foreign ministers on Monday condemned weekend violence by ethnic Albanians in Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, as U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari briefed them on his proposal for Kosovo's future status

Ahtisaari declined to comment after the monthly gathering of EU foreign ministers, but other participants expressed concern at the violence.

"There is no place in Kosovo for violence to achieve political objectives," EU expansion commissioner Olli Rehn said. "Those who resort to it only damage their own cause."

About 3,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated Saturday against the plan, pushing for full independence for Kosovo, where 90 percent of the 2 million people are ethnic Albanians, in protests that let to clashes with riot police. Two people were killed.

The government in Belgrade has rejected Ahtisaari's blueprint for Kosovo's future, which calls for a period of internationally supervised statehood for the region, saying this would be tantamount to dismembering the Serbian state.

"For me the central question is that of the territorial integrity of Serbia," Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Brussels.

Ethnic Albanian officials in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, have accepted the plan. "Kosovo's citizens have to stay committed and use this big chance that we have in bringing to life Kosovo's independence," Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu said.

The issue has divided the European Union, with several nations, including Greece, Romania, Cyprus, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland, expressing reservations about the blueprint.

The plan also has driven a wedge between the United States and Russia. Washington supports Ahtisaari's recommendations, but Moscow has warned it could set a dangerous precedent for other independence-minded regions around the world.

Ahtisaari wants to bring Serb and Kosovo Albanian officials to the negotiating table on Feb. 13, and then offer his final proposal to the U.N. Security Council for approval by spring.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin already has indicated that Moscow would use its veto to block any resolution unfavorable to Serbia.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he hoped the Kosovo issue would not spark a confrontation with Russia.

"We are going to have to continue discussing carefully with Russia and I hope we find a solution that will underpin stability in the western Balkans," said Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

And EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana emphasized that Belgrade, which has been seeking a resumption of talks on its future accession to the European Union, would benefit from the resolution of the Kosovo crisis.

The European Union has tried to sweeten the deal on Kosovo by promising to restart talks with Serbia on a pre-membership agreement and by easing visa requirements for Serbs traveling to the EU.

Talks on a "Stabilization and Association Agreement" were suspended last year when Serbia failed to deliver Gen. Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal from the 1992-95 Bosnian war, to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.

EU ministers said in a statement they welcomed moves to resume negotiations on an agreement if Belgrade "shows a clear commitment" to cooperating closely with the war crimes court.

"We have to send a positive signal at this moment they will get closer to the European Union if they comply with the conclusions of the (EU ministerial) council," Solana said.

Officials said France, Belgium and the Netherlands insisted on a tight link between the talks for a pre-membership accord and the requirement for Belgrade to bring Balkan war criminals to The Hague.

"In practical terms that means the EU wants to see a new police chief, a new interior minister and a new intelligence network. There are people now (in the Serbian government) who make it impossible" to arrest them, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot told reporters.

Also Monday, an ultranationalist party said Serbia should boycott upcoming talks about the U.N. plan for Kosovo.

Tomislav Nikolic, from the extremist Serbian Radical Party, said that "if they want to snatch away Kosovo from us, they should not expect us to participate and enjoy."


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