New York, 15 February 2008 – Serbia and Russia urged the UN Security Council Thursday to oppose Kosovo’s planned unilateral declaration of independence from Belgrade, slamming the move as “null and void” and a violation of international law.

“Let me be clear. The Republic of Serbia shall never accept any violation of its territorial integrity,” Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told a closed-door meeting of the 15-member body.

“We shall never recognize Kosovo’s independence. We shall not waiver, we shall not yield, should this cowardly act proceed unchecked,” he added. “Not now. Not in a year. Not in a decade. Never.”

But after an emergency debate lasting two and half hours, Panama’s UN Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias, the council chair this month, said a majority of members held the view that Kosovo was now “a predominantly European issue.”

A unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s Albanian majority is expected on Sunday or Monday, just before a key meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

A core group of big European Union states — Britain, France, Germany and Italy — are expected to recognize it quickly, almost in concert with the United States.

Jeremic made it clear that Belgrade “shall not tolerate such an illegal act of secession.”

“If forced to react to events beyond our control, our government and National Assembly will declare the actions of the authorities in Pristina null and void,” he added.

And he said, without elaborating, that Belgrade would “undertake all diplomatic, political and economic measures designed to impede and reverse this direct and unprovoked attack on our sovereignty.”

Before the council debate, the Serbian government decided to “annul” in advance Kosovo’s imminent independence proclamation.

US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff told reporters that the debate showed that “the council is blocked” and that the positions of Belgrade and Kosovo’s Albanian separatist leaders are “irreconcilable.”

He defended the argument of Western countries that Kosovo’s planned independence would not set a precedent for other secessionist movements, but was “a consequence of the ethnic cleansing policy” of late autocratic Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Jeremic pointedly retorted: “We all know that there are dozens of Kosovos throughout the world just waiting for secession to be legitimized.”

“Many existing conflicts would escalate, frozen conflicts would reignite and new ones would be instigated” if Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) was allowed to stand, he warned.

Serbia’s concerns were echoed in Washington by visiting Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who said Kosovo’s moved should “not be imitated by anybody else,” alluding to the ethnic Greek-led republic of Cyprus and Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.

In his speech, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, a veto-wielding council member and a staunch ally of Belgrade, said only the United States and its European allies were strongly in favor of Kosovo’s secession while other council members backed continued talks between the parties.

He slammed Kosovo’s independence as “a blatant breach of international law” and said it “would grossly violate the United Charter” and would infringe on Security Council resolution 1244 adopted at the end of Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war.

That resolution gave the disputed province “substantial autonomy” under Serbian sovereignty and put in place the UN mission and NATO-led peacekeepers.

Kosovo has been under UN rule since mid-1999, after a NATO air assault drove out Serbian forces waging a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas and their civilian supporters.

Churkin also voiced concern about the risk of “grave threats to the security of the local population and the international personnel in Kosovo in case of a UDI.”

“There is a real danger of renewed interethnic violence and increase in extremist activities in Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole,” he said, adding that a sharp increase in the number of ethnic Serb refugees leaving the province could not be ruled out.

Serbs make up roughly 10 percent of Kosovo’s population.

The 27-member EU bloc is preparing a Kosovo mission, dubbed EULEX, designed to help the province on its road to independence by deploying some 2,000 personnel, mainly police and justice experts.

In Kosovo, police late Thursday reported an explosion behind a building housing the advance team for the EU mission at the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica. The buiding did not sustain any damage.

“There are no injured,” Besim Hoti, the police spokesman in the town, told AFP by phone. Two windows of a nearby house had been smashed in the blast, he added.

The building is in the northern, Serbian part of the town, which is divided between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Hoti said a probe for possible reasons behind the blast was underway.

Source: AFP