4 January 2008 – Serbia is stepping up its resistance towards the idea of Kosovo becoming independent, with the country’s prime minister Vojislav Kostunica sending a clear warning to the European Union – either it backs Belgrade or Pristina.”We have come to the point where the EU has to choose whether it wants for its partner a whole, internationally recognised Serbia or wants to create a quasi-state on Serbian territory”, Mr Kostunica said in a written statement cited by Reuters on Thursday (4 January).

He also rejected the idea of sending an EU mission, consisting of 1,800 policemen, prosecutors and judges, to Serbia’s breakaway province – something that was agreed by all 27 European leaders in December.”The EU must choose…whether it will sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia or, under the United States’ pressure, send a mission to implement [a plan for] supervised independence of Kosovo, snatching part of Serbia’s territory”, the statement says.

Mr Kostunica referred to the intention to launch an EU police and civilian mission as to an “illegal decision” and underlined it would effectively “null and void” the initialling of the SAA.

The initialling of the pact – seen as the first step on the country’s path to EU membership – took place in November, and was expected to be fully signed by the end of January.

Mr Kostunica’s fresh ultimatum to the 27-nation EU bloc comes just days after the Serbian parliament adopted a resolution “on the protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of Serbia”, stressing that Belgrade will “reconsider” its diplomatic and other relations with any country recognising an sovereign state of Kosovo.

“Any treaty Serbia signs, including the Stabilisation and Association Agreement [with the EU], must be in keeping with preservation of [Serbian] sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the document passed on 26 December says.

Although the Serbs refuse to grant its southern province of Kosovo anything beyond wide autonomy, the EU is currently discussing a scenario under which Pristina would avoid a unilateral declaration of independence, but announces its own state as a result of coordination with international community.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999 when NATO air strikes ended Serbia’s crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

However, it remains unclear to what extent Mr Kostunica’s rhetoric is motivated by the upcoming presidential race. The first round of elections will be held on 20 January, with a possible run-off election on 3 February.

Among the nine candidates are current president Boris Tadic from the pro-European Democratic Party as well as Tomislav Nikolic, vice-president of the Serbian Radical Party, the main opposition force.

It is yet to be announced who will gain the support of the centre-right Democratic Party of Serbia led by Vojislav Kostunica, who is seen as a nationalist.

Source: EU Observer