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Serbia Asks Security Council To Keep UN Kosovo Mission In Place

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic (file photo) (AFP) UNITED NATIONS -- In his March 11 address to the UN Security Council, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic called on the UN to maintain its mission in Kosovo, urged countries that have recognized Kosovo's independence to reconsider their decision, and urged those that have not done so to stay the course and defend international law.

Jeremic also told the Security Council that Serbia "does not intend to impose an embargo" on Kosovo, and reiterated that Belgrade will not use force against Kosovo for seceding.

Jeremic addressed the council shortly after current Security Council president Russia circulated a draft statement that would have condemned Kosovo's independence and reaffirmed Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo. The draft was acknowledged by Britain and the United States, but the two allies said there was no way to reverse what has happened in Kosovo.

Addressing plans to gradually replace UN troops with European Union forces in Kosovo, Jeremic said that only the Security Council's 1999 Resolution 1244, which reaffirms Serbia's territorial integrity, is the legal basis for any international presence or operations in Kosovo. He said the resolution is currently being undermined by an attempt to transfer some of the powers of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to unauthorized bodies -- in this case, the EU.

Jeremic said international law had been broken by a unilateral declaration of independence by what he described as one of Serbia's "southern provinces."

Irreconcilable Goals

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said last week that his government could no longer stay in office because of the conflicting goals of trying to retain Kosovo and joining the European Union.

Early elections are scheduled for May. Jeremic said vote will be critical for Serbia.

"Some deep differences exist in Serbia over an array of issues: economic issues, social issues, and perhaps most fundamentally, the issue of whether or not Serbia belongs to Europe, the question of Serbia's future in the European Union," Jeremic said. "But there's one thing that these elections are not going to be about -- they're not going to be about Kosovo. The policy of Serbia toward Kosovo is not going to change. And this was also the message that I have for the Security Council. On the issue of Kosovo, Serbia is united and there's no way this unity is going to go away."

Jeremic said Serbia remains ready for further dialogue, describing the situation as "very precarious" and "very unstable."

The British ambassador to the UN, John Sawers, rejected a Russian draft statement that would have condemned Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence and urged the preservation of Serbia's territorial integrity.

"It's based on a premise which is now overtaken -- many members of the Council have recognized Kosovo as an independent country, and what we would want to do is make a success of that independence," Sawers said. The statement "would only be adopted if, first of all, it was radically changed, and secondly, if certain members of the Council radically change their position. And we are not about to radically change ours," he said.

Asked about Serbia's appeal to keep UNMIK intact, Sawers said that new realities dictate that the mission gradually be replaced by personnel from the European Union. "As the European Union role grows, as Kosovo's independence and sovereignty is more widely recognized, UNMIK will need to adapt to that," Sawers said.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, also rejected the proposed Russian statement. "Any resolution statement going forward from now on by the council, for it to have our support, it must be based on the clear recognition that there is a changed reality: there is Kosovo, an independent state, and there is, of course, Serbia," Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad assured Serbia it is being respected and taken seriously, but that at the same time Belgrade must accept and adapt to the new reality. "We want the Serb people to know that the world, the international community, and the Security Council respect them, take them seriously," he said. "But those in Serbia who believe that what has happened in Kosovo can be undone are being misled."

No New Reality

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, rejected assertions that a "new reality" regarding Kosovo has been established.

"We believe that what has happened is some kind of a 'Matrix'-type virtual reality, which cannot be recognized as legal international reality until and unless there is an agreement between the parties and a new decision of the Security Council on something which will replace [Resolution] 1244," Churkin said.

Churkin also condemned as illegal the efforts of the EU to replace the UN mission on the ground in Kosovo.

"We do not accept the legality of the European mission.... Especially we reject their assertions that they are working toward replacing UNMIK, which is wrapping up its operation in Kosovo. All this is clearly outside of the bounds of [Resolution] 1244 and their responsibilities. No one should usurp or try to usurp the responsibilities of UNMIK and the United Nations in Kosovo."

Russia and China -- both permanent, veto-holding members of the Council -- have said the only legal solution for Kosovo must be based on Resolution 1244.

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