Kosovo breakaway imminent as EU backs move

EU

Kosovo moved a step closer to independence from Serbia today when European governments indicated that they would back the move.

As EU foreign ministers meeting today in Brussels announced that all of the bloc’s governments except Cyprus now supported independence for the province, the Serbian Government was joined by Russia in remaining vehemently opposed. Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian Prime Minister, could cut all diplomatic relations, trade and supply routes to Kosovo, causing it extensive economic damage, if it declares independence, analysts warn. Meanwhile Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and staunch ally of Serbia, repeated its opposition to allowing Kosovo to separate itself from Serbia, amid fears it may fuel further Chechen demands for independence from Moscow.

Cyprus, the only EU government still believed to oppose Kosovan independence ahead of this afternoon’s meeting, is said to fear that its Turkish-occupied northern region could also follow suit. The fresh international fallout came as an attempt by the UN to broker a settlement between Serbia and its breakaway province ended today in failure, after two years of bitter negotiations. Kosovan leaders said that, following the breakdown of the talks, they would declare independence provided that they have the backing of the European Union and the United States. Both the EU and US have so far indicated their support for the plan. EU foreign ministers, who will discuss the issue this afternoon, today indicated that they were close to unanimous agreement.

Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, a key mediator in the Balkans in the 1990s, spoke of the likelihood of reaching „virtual unity”, as he arrived for the talks. Bildt added that „there is one country who cannot accept” a solution for Kosovo’s status without a UN resolution - a statement believed to be a clear reference to Cyprus. His Luxembourg counterpart, Jean Asselborn, said most others were on board. „Apart from perhaps Cyprus, which has huge problems, which we can understand, all the other countries are on the same track,” he said. Aside from Cyprus, at least three other EU nations - Greece, Slovakia and Spain - are also believed to be reluctant to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence, in part because of the precedent it might set for separatists nearer to home. As the EU moved closer to agreement today, Russia warned that recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence could set off problems in the Balkans and beyond. „It will create a chain reaction throughout the Balkans and other areas of the world,” Sergei Lavrov told reporters after talks with Tassos Papadopolous, the Cypriot President.

Kosovo has been an autonomous part of Serbia under a UN Security Council resolution since 1999, which was agreed after NATO bombed Belgrade to stop a bloody Serb crackdown on the ethnic Albanians. The province is 90% Albanian, and 10% Serbian. (timesonline.co.uk)

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