Serbia rejects Kosovo secession plan

BELGRADE, Serbia-The Serbian president on Friday rejected a U.N. plan for Kosovo, saying it "opens the possibility of independence" for the breakaway province.

Boris Tadic received the draft proposal during a meeting Friday with its author, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

"I told Mr. Ahtisaari that Serbia and I, as its president, will never accept Kosovo's independence," Tadic said in a statement.

The proposal "does not explicitly mention independence for Kosovo, but it also does not mention territorial integrity of Serbia," the president said. "That fact alone, as well as some other provisions, opens the possibility for Kosovo's independence."

Kosovo has been an international protectorate since the 1998-99 war there between Serb troops and independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. The government in Belgrade has offered broad autonomy for the province, but rejects a complete secession as demanded by the Kosovo Albanians.

"Imposing independence (for Kosovo) would violate the fundamental principles of international law and serve as a dangerous political and legal precedent," Tadic said.

The leader acknowledged, however, that the U.N. plan envisages autonomy for the dwindling Serb community in Kosovo and measures to protect their property and heritage, notably the ancient Serb churches and monasteries in the troubled province.

"We shall carefully consider these provisions" in consultations on Monday among political parties in Serbia. The Balkan republic is yet to form a new parliament following last month's elections.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who declined to meet with Ahtisaari on Friday, dismissed the U.N. envoy's proposal as "illegitimate" because it "violates the U.N. Charter ... by undermining sovereignty of U.N. member Serbia."

Ahtisaari "did not have the mandate to divide Serbia's territory and redraw its internationally recognized borders," Kostunica said.

Members of the embattled Serb community in Kosovo were also negative about the U.N. proposal.

"Ahtisaari came here to double-cross us," said Slavisa Janackovic, a 48-year-old Serb in northern Kosovo. "All Serbs will move out of Kosovo it becomes an independent Albanian state."

A leader of the 100,000-strong Kosovo Serb community, Milan Ivanovic, said the U.N. proposal is "not balanced at all. It was created between Ahtisaari and the (ethnic) Albanians, so it cannot be acceptable."

The U.N. plan envisages that Kosovo should have own constitution, anthem and flag, and that it can apply for membership in international organizations, which would effectively make it a sovereign state.

Serbia's Foreign Ministry blasted the plan and its author, Ahtisaari, for "dramatically changing the current state borders of Serbia."

Serbia considers Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians now form an overwhelming majority, as its historic territory and the original seat of the Serbian state and religion.

Government official Velimir Ilic also protested that the U.N. proposal "deprives Serbia of 15 percent of its territory."

Kostunica recently threatened with severing diplomatic ties with countries that might recognize Kosovo as a state.



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