UNITED NATIONS -- Serbia has reiterated its opposition to Kosovo's independence, with Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic telling the UN Security Council that Belgrade will never recognize its former territory as a separate entity.
Kosovo announced its break from Serbia in February 2008. Since then, 60 countries have recognized Kosovo.
But as Jeremic noted in his address to the Security Council on June 17, that is only a fraction of the UN's total 192 member states, and Kosovo itself remains outside the UN.
Under such circumstances, Jeremic said, it was only appropriate that the UN continue its mission in Kosovo, to help protect the security of the ethnic Serbian minority.
"I would like to express my country's deep gratitude to the vast majority of the UN member states who respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia," Jeremic said.
"The solidarity we have received from all over the globe encourages us to persevere in our efforts to resolve the future status of Kosovo in a way that is acceptable to all responsible stakeholders. It is my sincere hope that we will continue to work together in defense of the basic principles of international law that's strengthening the universal case for the consensual resolution of disputes."
Jeremic said that thousands of Kosovar Serbs face problems including destroyed houses and concerns about their safety. Tens of thousands more Serbs displaced by the 1998-99 war would like to return to Kosovo, Jeremic said, but have been prevented from doing so and have been unsuccessful in their attempts to recover illegally seized property. He cited the UN refugee agency as saying more than 200,000 Kosovo Serbs have yet to return to their homes.
Deciding On The Mission
Kosovo has no official representative at the United Nations. But the June 17 meeting was attended by a representative from Kosovo, Skender Hyseni, who dismissed as "science fiction" Jeremic's claims and accused Belgrade of sabotaging the return of Kosovo's Serbs by encouraging them to remain in Serbia proper.
Hyseni also appealed to the UN to conclude the work of its UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and leave. The UN mission has nominally been replaced by an EU law-and-order mission, EULEX.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last year that the "new realities" should be recognized and the mission scaled down.
But Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, is a strong supporter of Belgrade's claims, resists closing UNMIK, and does not recognize Kosovo's independence.
China, another Security Council permanent member, also does not recognize Kosovo and supports continuing UNMIK.
But UNMIK continues to operate in Kosovo's Serb-majority north, and Belgrade says its work is essential to protecting the rights of Serbs. But Hyseni said EULEX no longer needs to be augmented by UNMIK.
Hyseni said that "in light of the continued positive developments in Kosovo, and the widespread deployment of EULEX," Kosovo's government requests the mission be closed.
"I reiterate also the commitment, expressed in our declaration of independence and in our constitution, of respect for and adherence to international law, including binding resolutions of this body," Hyseni added.
The U.S. and British representatives at the meeting urged both Pristina and Belgrade to facilitate the return of the refugees to their homes and to assist them in recovering their property.