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Serbia urges UN to prevent secessionist moves

Serbia's foreign minister warned on Thursday that an international court ruling backing the independence declaration by Kosovo has opened "Pandora's box" for secessionist movements around the world.

world Updated: Jul 30, 2010 07:27 IST

Serbia's foreign minister warned on Thursday that an international court ruling backing the independence declaration by Kosovo has opened "Pandora's box" for secessionist movements around the world.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Vuk Jeremic urged the more than 120 countries that haven't recognized Kosovo's independence to support a UN resolution declaring that "a unilateral secession cannot be an acceptable way for resolving territorial issues."

At a press conference later Thursday, Kosovo Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni countered that the ruling by the International Court of Justice calls Kosovo "a very special case which does not set any precedent" for other situations around the world. "Therefore, any attempt to present Kosovo as a precedent is in fact an effort to undermine Kosovo's statehood, an attempt to undermine Kosovo's progress internationally," Hyseni said. "It's not going to work."

Kosovo came under UN and NATO administration after a NATO-led air war halted former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999, but the resolution that established the interim UN administration left its final status in question.

Despite the 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo's predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership, the UN, at Russian insistence, still retains overall authority, though the European Union now carries out many day-to-day administrative responsibilities.

Jeremic argued that there are close to 100 separatist movements in dozens of countries around the world, from China and Russia to Spain and Indonesia, and some have already expressed interest in last week's nonbinding ruling by the UN's highest court. "I think that there is a lot of excitement in various parts of the world, and people are watching this process," he said. Jeremic said Serbia introduced the resolution so that the 192-member General Assembly, which asked for the court ruling, can state clearly "that unilateral secession is not a way to achieve statehood or to resolve territorial disputes."

General Assembly resolutions aren't binding, but he said such a statement by the world body would deter secessionist groups from following in Kosovo's footsteps.

Jeremic stressed, however, that "the true closing of Pandora's box" will only come if Kosovo and Serbia "find a mutually acceptable solution to all outstanding issues through peaceful dialogue," as the draft resolution calls for.

While Serbia's draft resolution to the General Assembly doesn't include previous demands for talks on Kosovo's status, Serb lawmakers passed a resolution on Tuesday vowing that their country will never recognize the independence of Kosovo, which it considers the cradle of its statehood and religion.

Kosovo's Hyseni called the proposed General Assembly resolution "disastrous."

"I'm certain (it) is making nervous many countries around the world," he said, reiterating again that Kosovo was "a very special case" stemming from the breakup of former Yugoslavia. "Trust me, there is no other way forward but for Kosovo and Serbia to cooperate together on a state-to-state basis for a common future, and the common future is the European Union and NATO," he said.

Kosovo's statehood so far has won backing from 69 countries, including the U.S. and most EU nations, but many others are still hesitant.

Hyseni said he is "optimistic about the immediate future" because "dozens" of nations which he refused to identify have promised to recognize Kosovo following the court ruling. Jeremic said winning approval for Serbia's resolution in the General Assembly "will be a very tall order ... very tough." "But ... we have a constitutional duty to defend our territorial integrity," he said. "I hope that this is going to be supported by the majority of the world's public opinion as well as the majority of member states in the General Assembly. We believe that this is an obligation that UN member states have under the UN Charter." Jeremic discussed the court ruling with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday, and Hyseni said he will meet him on Monday. Jeremic said he told the UN chief "we're not going to do anything that's going to contribute to the destabilizing of the situation in the province, and that we are ready to engage in a dialogue." He said Ban said told him the UN will remain neutral on the status issue.

First Published: Jul 30, 2010 07:25 IST