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Kosovo: UN Security Council Remains Divided On Independence

UNITED NATIONS -- In a late-night emergency session of the UN Security Council, Serbia stated unequivocally that Belgrade will never recognize an independent Kosovo.

Speaking at the council's closed-door session on February 14, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Belgrade will use all diplomatic, political, and economic means possible to stop the ethnic-Albanian-majority province from seceding.

"We shall never recognize Kosovo's independence," he said, according to a copy of the address released by Serbia's UN Mission. "Not now. Not in a year. Not in a decade. Never."

However, speaking to reporters afterward, Jeremic repeated past pledges that Belgrade would not resort to violence.

"Serbia is not going to use force," he said. "And this is the commitment that Serbia has had -- unlike the Kosovo Albanians -- this is the commitment that a democratic Serbia has had since the onset of this process."

Kosovo's Albanian leaders did not attend the council session and did not ask to make a statement. But the council was flooded by requests from more than 45 UN member states who wanted to participate in the controversial session, which comes as Pristina is expected to declare independence from Serbia on February 17 or 18.

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, emphasized Moscow's continued objection to Kosovo independence. He said the only way to proceed with the resolution of the Kosovo crisis is to follow the recommendations of the Security Council Resolution 1244 adopted in 1999.

That resolution, says Churkin, assures the territorial integrity of Serbia, Kosovo included.

"We have a situation where the standards which should have been implemented before even discussing settlement have not been implemented," Churkin said. "We have a situation where there are almost no Serbs remaining in Kosovo. We have a situation where Kosovo Albanians clearly are not prepared for independence because even the proponents of the idea admit that international presence will have to stay there for a very long time. So, why go through this, why rush the process, why not do it right?"

Churkin also warned that a unilateral declaration of independence risked "a real danger of renewed interethnic violence and increase in extremist activities in Kosovo and in the Balkans as [a] whole."

The 15 members of the Security Council were roughly equally divided between those who favor the Kosovo declaration and those who are urging alternative solutions. The United States, together with Britain, France, and other EU countries, have already indicated they will recognize an independence Kosovo.

Alejandro Wolff, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, said continued debate over Kosovo would not help bring a resolution to what remains an essentially "irreconcilable" issue.

"It's clear again that this council is blocked as it has been," Wolff said. "There were no new elements introduced. I made the point on behalf of the United States that the Kosovo situation is unique, it has its history, we can't ignore or forget that history and its consequences of the ethnic cleansing policies of Slobodan Milosevic and his government which insured that Kosovo will never again be ruled from Belgrade. The simple fact is that the parties are irreconcilable on fundamental points. And that's why these negotiations have failed. This is not a question of more time."

London's UN ambassador, John Sawers, said that Britain recognizes that Kosovo's case is unique. He echoed U.S. sentiments that continuing discussions would not bring the sides any closer to a resolution.

"There was a good discussion in the council today," Sawers said. "I think the council was evenly divided between those who recognize that the process has come to a conclusion and those who would have preferred continued efforts. Although it was quite clear in our meeting in December, and again in our meeting last month, and again today that there is no prospect of the two sides reaching agreement on the fundamental issue of sovereignty."

Serbia's Jeremic appealed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to exercise his authority and to instruct his special representative in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, to use his power if Kosovo's parliament declares independence and "proclaim this act to be null and void."

The UN Security Council session followed televised remarks by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade in which he acknowledged for the first time that the loss of Kosovo was a reality. He added, however, that Serbia would never accept it.