Slobodan Samardzic, Serbia'a chief delegate, arriving for talks on Kosovo's status in Vienna on 20 February (epa)
27 February 2006 -- The Serbian parliament today voted unanimously to back Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's report on Kosovo, in which he reiterates that the breakaway province must remain under Serbian sovereignty.
Kostunica told the parliament that Serbia must not allow a state to be formed within a state that would break off part of Serbian territory.
All 226 lawmakers voted in support of the report, with no abstentions.
Kostunica sharply criticized international officials over statements which he said were prejudging independence as the outcome of UN-backed talks on the final status of Kosovo.
He repeated that Belgrade is offering Kosovo a "comprehensive autonomy," warning that independence as an "imposed solution" would sow the seed for a spiral of violent changes of borders on the same principle as with Kosovo.
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
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